FCC Proposes A Massive Fourfold Increase To Fixed Broadband Speeds

Internet ethernet
For the last eight years, internet service providers (ISPs) in the US have enjoyed a very liberal definition of "broadband." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to rain on their parade. The commission may update the definition of what constitutes broadband, raising the minimum speed requirement by a factor of four. It might not mean faster speeds are coming right away, but it could push ISPs in the right direction.

The last time the FCC updated the broadband definition was in 2015, when it decreed that broadband should support at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. Networks that were unable to reliably hit those numbers could not bill themselves as a broadband service provider. However, the internet is different than it was just eight years ago. Streaming 4K video is much more common in 2023 than it was in 2015, and technologies like virtual and augmented reality could require even more bandwidth in the near future. This is quite a reversal from the commission's direction under former Chairman Ajit Pai.

The new speed standard is supported by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who has spoken in favor of raising broadband standards in the past. The notice from the FCC is short, just three paragraphs long, explaining that the FCC is bound by the Telecommunications Act to routinely evaluate the state of broadband deployment in the US. The analysis will explore the affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access of broadband across the country. This "universal service standard" is distinct from the proposed speed increase, but Chairwoman Rosenworcel has opted to include the speed boost under the same Notice of Inquiry (PDF).

jessica rosenworcel press photo
Current FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

If the new standards are adopted, Broadband in the US would need to reliably support speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 30 Mbps up. The commission will provide an evidence-based rationale for this change, but we have no doubt ISPs will object because they would very much like to keep selling "broadband" at slower speeds.

The statement also looks toward the future. While exploring an imminent change to the 100/30 Mbps standard, the FCC will also evaluate a path to upgrading the broadband in the future to 1 gigabit down and 500 megabits up. These standards only apply to fixed broadband, so mobile services will be able to continue offering lower broadband speeds for phones and hotspots.