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FCC might finally start judging broadband on more than speed

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The FCC may start drawing a more thorough picture of broadband deployment across the US. The commission launched an inquiry today asking whether it should begin to consider more than the availability of wired high-speed internet when writing its annual assessment of broadband. In the future, that could include looking at the deployment of other types of high-speed internet, including wireless and satellite. The commission could also begin to look at whether those networks are actually any good. It may start to consider whether networks are reliable or laggy, what they're priced at, if they have data caps, what their privacy policies are, and how widely they're being adopted.

The US's broadband deployment is already getting pretty bad reviews

If the commission decides to start considering these factors — which, really, it should — the US is likely going to be in for an even harsher review next year. The 2015 report, released in February, found that broadband deployment wasn't happening in a "reasonable and timely" manner, leaving close to 55 million Americans without access to "broadband capable of delivering high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video offerings."

Changing how the FCC judges broadband deployment won't necessarily lead to specific changes or improvements in policy. That said, the commission's reports will be used to inform future decisions, and having a better picture of what high-speed internet looks like in the US should certainly help develop sound policies and goals.

The commission explains why it thinks these changes are important in a news release: "Americans increasingly use both fixed and mobile broadband, but for different purposes," it writes. "While fixed terrestrial broadband service can have advantages for high-capacity home use, mobile broadband has become increasingly important for many uses, including connecting on social media, navigating during travel, communicating with family and friends, receiving timely news updates, and more." Checking social media may sound trivial, but wireless service's use as communications tool is hugely important. Should these rules be adopted, it'll get easier to tell how well the US is doing at rolling out access to everyone.