The federal government’s definition of high-speed broadband has remained stagnant over the last six years, sitting at 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up since 2015. But faced with pandemic-fueled network loads and a new push for infrastructure spending, lawmakers are getting ready to upgrade that definition. In a letter to government leaders Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators called for a quadrupling of base high-speed broadband delivery speeds making 100Mbps down and 100Mbps up the new base for high-speed broadband.
“Going forward, we should make every effort to spend limited federal dollars on broadband networks capable of providing sufficient download and upload speeds and quality,” Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Angus King (I-ME), and Rob Portman (R-OH) wrote to the FCC and other agencies. “There is no reason federal funding to rural areas should not support the type of speeds used by households in typical well-served urban and suburban areas.”
The letter calls on the FCC and other agencies to change their definitions of “high speed broadband” to anything above 100Mbps down and 100Mbps up — a shift that would prohibit the FCC from identifying an area as being served with broadband unless it met those speed criteria. It’s a complete change of pace from the FCC under former Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, which established the previous 25 / 3Mbps standard.
“We find that the current speed benchmark of 25/3 Mbps remains an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service is providing advanced telecommunications capability,” the FCC’s report said earlier this year.
The current base speeds for high-speed broadband aren’t nearly enough for a moderately sized family working from home. Zoom recommends 3.8Mbps upload speeds for just one 1080p video, and the shift to remote schooling and work has forced many families to run multiple simultaneous streams.
“Ask any senior who connects with their physician via telemedicine, any farmer hoping to unlock the benefits of precision agriculture, or any student who receives livestreamed instruction, or any family where both parents telework and multiple children are remote learning, and they will tell you that many networks fail to come close to ‘high speed’ in the year 2021,” the senators wrote.
Updated 3/4/21 at 8:15AM ET: Updated quotes to reflect final text of the letter.