The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a change to the definition of “broadband” and in so doing could leave about a fifth of the country without access to service that meets the new minimum standard.
At today’s broadband definition of 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps up, only 6.3 percent of US households have no access to wired broadband. That doesn’t mean the other 93.7 percent are using broadband, but they could buy it from at least one wired Internet provider in their city or town:
Under the proposed definition of 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up (which is opposed by Internet providers), 19.4 percent of US households would be in areas without any wired broadband providers. 55.3 percent would have just one provider of “broadband,” with the rest being able to choose from two or more. Rural areas are far less likely to have fast Internet service than urban ones.
Only 25Mbps and up will qualify as broadband under new FCC definition
Broadband not being deployed “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” Wheeler says.
Most of the US has no broadband competition at 25Mbps, FCC chair says
But will the FCC block Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger? Wheeler doesn’t say.
In FCC parlance, broadband is “advanced telecommunications capability” that “enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology.” The FCC determines a minimum speed.
Among the major wired Internet providers, a change in definition would disproportionately affect DSL service. Cable generally has no problem delivering 25Mbps; Comcast’s standard lineup does include an entry-level tier that goes up only to 6Mbps downstream, but its higher-priced tiers are advertised at 150Mbps down and 20Mbps up. Fiber networks also meet the proposed broadband definition with ease, with some offering a gigabit in both directions. (As always, speeds are “up to” the advertised numbers and don’t always hit them.)
It’s a different story for DSL, which is delivered over copper telephone lines. Bitrates decline over distance, so customers receive fewer bits per second if they’re far away from distribution points, but even under ideal circumstances DSL generally won’t provide 25Mbps service.
This means a big portion of AT&T and Verizon subscribers will no longer have “broadband” if the FCC changes the definition. The nation’s two largest traditional telephone companies have each deployed a lot of fiber, but still have plenty of DSL customers.
Read more: Tons of AT&T and Verizon customers may no longer have “broadband” tomorrow | Ars Technica.