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US telcos shy away from broadband definition benchmark boost

Two of the United States' largest telecommunications companies, AT&T and Verizon, are shying away from the government's move to boost its definition of what constitutes broadband from 4Mbps to 10Mbps.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor

US telecommunications giants AT&T and Verizon have called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to boost its definition of broadband to 10Mbps from its current benchmark of 4Mbps.

In submissions to the FCC's inquiry into advanced telecommunications deployment in the country, AT&T and Verizon have both told the commission that the current data speed benchmark for broadband is adequate, given the online habits of most Americans.

"The commission should not artificially narrow the definition of broadband to require certain capabilities (such as the ability to stream HD video to multiple users simultaneously), and should instead study the full range of services that consumers demand and the variety of services they are using to fill these varied needs," said AT&T in its comments (PDF) to the inquiry, submitted late last week.

"The commission should undertake a more rigorous, fact-based, and statutory analysis before determining what, if any, definitional revisions are warranted at this time. Even recognising that the definition of broadband will evolve over time, the notice presents no record basis for a conclusion at this time that a service of less than 10Mbps is no longer 'advanced'," the company said.

The FCC has periodically raised the minimum standard for internet service to be considered a broadband service, according to ARS Technica, determining in 2010 that the minimum broadband definition speed should be between 200Kbps to 4Mbps and 1Mbps upstream.

However, according to AT&T, the current pace of the industry does not require a change in definition for what constitutes broadband.

"Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine 'advanced' capabilities and ... the proposed redefinition is not adequately supported," said AT&T in its submission.

If the FCC does amend the broadband definition benchmark, it would likely dramatically alter the broadband coverage rates that the country's service providers would be able to claim, which, under the present definition, is relatively far reaching.

As of 2012, 94 percent of Americans had access to fixed broadband services under the current definition benchmark, said AT&T, referencing the FCC's findings from that year. According to the company, 94 percent of the population also had access to mobile broadband as of 2012.

Meanwhile, Verizon argued in its submission that the FCC should make a point of keeping in mind the prevalence of wireless broadband as it considers raising the definition benchmark.

Verizon said that according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which includes mobile broadband in its National Broadband Map, wireless broadband is now available to more than 98 percent of the population.

"As of the end of 2013, there were approximately 100 million 4G LTE subscribers in the US, which represents half of all worldwide 4G LTE connections," said Verizon in its comments (PDF), also submitted late last week.

Verizon also highlighted infrastructure development projects by AT&T and CenturyLink that have seen tens of millions of Americans hooked up to broadband — as it stands under the current definition.

"AT&T has stated that its proposed merger with DirecTV would enable the combined company to expand broadband deployment further still, 'to at least 15 million customer locations across 48 states, with most of those locations in under-served rural areas'," said Verizon.

"CenturyLink passes nearly 8 million homes with fibre to the node, and in August 2014 announced that symmetrical broadband speeds up to 1Gbps are now available to residential and business customers in select locations in 16 cities," the company said.

The move to raise the speed benchmark for broadband definition comes as Australia drops from 18th to 21st in the OECD rankings for fixed broadband penetration for the last six months of 2013.

Statistics published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in July this year revealed that for the second half of last year, Australia was slipping down the ranks for the number of fixed broadband customers per capita.

At the end of December 2013, there were just over 6 million fixed broadband subscribers in Australia, roughly 26 percent of the total population. The majority of these customers were on DSL technology at 21.2 percent, versus 4.1 percent on cable, and 0.7 percent on fibre.

However, Australia ranked ahead of Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Korea, and the United States, which for the first time reached 100 percent penetration, with over 300 million mobile subscribers.

Australia's definition of what constitutes broadband starts just above where the current US benchmark begins, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics defining broadband as an "always-on internet connection with an access speed equal to or greater than 256Kbps.

Meanwhile, NBN Co, the company charged with rolling out the country's national broadband network (NBN), defines broadband as "speeds equal to or greater than those provided by Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), that is, a minimum download speed of 265Kbps and minimum upload speed 64Kbps."

At the beginning of September, the NBN rollout had passed 21,604 existing premises since June 30, according to NBN Co's statistics — leading to complaints that the network construction has slowed considerably since NBN Co reached its June target.

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