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Slow broadband? FCC wants to boost internet speeds from 'harmful' minimums

The chair of the FCC wants to raise the US minimum broadband speeds and sets ambitious long-term targets, too.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
Image: Shutterstock / Antonio Guillem

The current minimum measure for broadband is behind the times and, even worse, it's harmful, warns the chairwoman of the US telecoms sector regulator, the Federal Communications Commission. 

Jessica Rosenworcel, Joe Biden's appointment for chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), wants to raise the US's national standard for minimum broadband speeds and to create a more ambitious long-term speed goal. 

The current minimums of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25/3) speeds were established in 2015 under then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Prior to this, the minimum was 4/1 Mbps. The minimum was not raised under the Trump Administration's FCC chairman Ajit Pai. 

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Rosenworcel wants to bump up the national minimum to 100/20 Mbps and has called the current minimum "harmful" for low-income and rural communities. 

A July 2021 report from the US Government Accountability Office found that the 25/3 Mbps minimum is "likely too slow to meet many small business speed needs".    

"The needs of internet users long ago surpassed the FCC's 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online," said Rosenworcel in a press release

"The 25/3 metric isn't just behind the times, it's a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline. That's why we need to raise the standard for minimum broadband speeds now and while also aiming even higher for the future, because we need to set big goals if we want everyone everywhere to have a fair shot at 21st century success," she said. 

Rosenworcel set out the 100/20 Mbps plan in a Notice of Inquiry circulated to FCC colleagues informing them it would commence the annual evaluation of the state of broadband across the US. 

The catch is that the usually five-seat FCC board needs to vote on the questions and, currently, only four of those seats are filled: with two Democrats and two Republicans

Rosenworcel also wants the FCC to set a separate national of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future. She's proposing the FCC consider affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access as part of its determination as to whether broadband is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion. 

She said the Notice of Inquiry will discuss a range of evidence supporting the 100/20 Mbps national standard, "including the requirements for new networks funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act."

Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal in November with $65 billion allocated to expanding access to reliable high-speed internet to all Americans. 

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But there are questions over whether the FCC can currently implement the new minimum speed as debate kicks off again about net neutrality, as the Washington Post reports. Democrats generally support net neutrality while Republicans generally oppose it. 

Since Biden's administration begun, the five-seat FCC board has been deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans due to delays in nominating the fifth, which progressives hope is Biden's pick, Gigi Sohn, co-founder of telecom advocacy group Public Knowledge. 

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