Broadband speeds get a boost from the FCC

February 5, 2015

U.S. Internet users got two big news items courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission  this week.

The first, announced Jan. 29, creates new standards for what Internet providers can and cannot call “broadband service.” The FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report, declared that benchmark broadband speeds are redefined as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads, up from the 4 Mbps/1 Mbps standard set in 2010. That means if your provider offers something slower, they can’t call it broadband. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 dictates that the FCC report annually on broadband availability and deployment, and act immediately if access is not sufficient for all Americans. Using the new definition, the FCC found that 55 million Americans — 17 percent of the population — didn’t have access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps as of Dec. 31. 2013. Over half of rural Americans don’t have access, as this county-level interactive map shows:

As this Reuters graphic shows, Internet video traffic currently takes up the lion’s share of bandwidth, and that percentage is only expected to grow. The U.S. is currently ranked 26th in the world in Internet speed, with download speeds just over half of those in Romania. At 5 Mbps, Apple estimates the download time for a 2-hour movie at 18-24 minutes, with a 2-hour HD movie taking 54-72 minutes; the newly quintupled speeds would reduce downloads to just 20 percent of those times. You can test your current download speed on C|net’s internet speed test page.

The second bigt piece of news this week was when FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler outlined how the Commission plans to ensure net neutrality in an op-ed in WIRED:

These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply — for the first time ever — those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.

To accomplish this, new rules would classify Internet service providers as purveyors of “telecommunications services,” which are tightly regulated according to rules set out in Title II of the same Telecommunications Act of 1996 mention above. Wheeler’s inclusion of mobile broadband in his proposal is important, too: A report out from Cisco this week said that, “Last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly 30 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. One exabyte of traffic traversed the global Internet in 2000, and in 2014 mobile networks carried nearly 30 exabytes of traffic.”

The FCC will vote on the net neutrality proposal on Feb. 26, and given the implications, corporate litigation looks like a certainty, but both decisions should eventually amount to very good news for U.S. Internet users.

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