A Further Look into Why the FCC Has Lowered Broadband Standards

January 19th, 2018 by · 9 Comments

This Industry Viewpoint was contributed by Alan Levy, CEO of Skywire Networks

Net neutrality may be dead, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the FCC from continuing to relax the regulatory standards to which broadband providers are held. The FCC is now proposing that access to mobile broadband via a smartphone will be treated the same as wireline broadband. This subtle re-categorization will reduce the standard for what qualifies as high speed broadband. It’s remarkable that the FCC is taking positions to reduce broadband standards when the United States only ranks 20th in the world in terms of broadband speed.

The current policy standard, put in place in 2015, says that all Americans must have access to home broadband with speeds of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload, as well as access to mobile broadband. However, the new guidelines proposed by the FCC would count access to mobile broadband as high-speed internet, while simultaneously reducing the speed requirement to 10Mbps down and 1Mpbs up.

The FCC’s decision to reduce the minimum defined speed for broadband will do little to incentivize the building of broadband networks in the communities most in need of them. Not only that, it will also punish those who rely on the internet to pay their bills, get access to vital information, and find employment. At a time when the US should be making significantly more investments in broadband infrastructure, this policy change by the FCC defies logic.

Why would the FCC make such a move? Paradoxically, it allows them to claim that more people have access to high speed broadband - a claim that would technically be true, but is also misleading. Yes, more people would have high speed broadband, under the narrow definition proposed by the FCC, but their internet wouldn’t be any faster than it was before; in fact, the opposite is likely to happen. After all, if broadband providers are no longer being held to a higher standard, then they have no incentive to continue offering the old speeds unless they are able to make more money from it.

Another reason for this decision is the fact that more people are “cutting the cord” and relying solely on smartphone data. However, as some have pointed out, even mobile plans that claim to offer unlimited data come with significant caveats: most notably, the fact that carriers reserve the right to slow down data speeds if users go above a certain data threshold. If more people begin relying on mobile carriers to provide the internet access that they can’t get at home, that would put more pressure on the carriers, which might then cause them to start charging more for their mobile data plans and reducing their data speeds.

This policy change by the FCC is clearly another accomodation to the large nationwide telecom operators and cable companies. In NYC, for example, as it relates to commercial broadband, there is very little fiber in the boroughs of NYC. There is an abundance of fiber in midtown and downtown; however, there are tens of thousands of buildings and hundreds of thousands of small businesses in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx which still rely on legacy copper networks or poor asymmetric cable offerings.

Furthermore, there are more than 100,000 T-1’s in NYC alone, low speed circuits which can’t support today’s modern data applications like ethernet, hosted voice, cloud and managed services, etc. The legacy T-1’s (which are 1.54Mbps), eventually must be migrated to Ethernet or will simply churn out. It’s time for network builders to scale the capabilities of their broadband networks by offering more speed, more choice and better options for consumers and businesses.

As writer Joel Hruska notes, “Simultaneously implementing the 10/1 standard for wireless and allowing wireless or fixed service to qualify as broadband will reduce the number of Americans who officially lack access to affordable service and or/acceptable performance without actually doing anything to improve the problem.” It would also do little to address the issue of poor broadband and mobile service in rural areas. All in all, the new standards will be very good for carriers and broadband providers - but not so good for the people who rely on the internet to do their jobs, pay their bills, and live their lives.

Categories: FTTH · Government Regulations · Industry Viewpoint · Internet Traffic · Wireless

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9 Comments So Far


  • mhammett says:

    “Not only that, it will also punish those who rely on the internet to pay their bills, get access to vital information, and find employment.”

    This is disingenuous. 10 megabit is at least one order of magnitude more than you need to accomplish those tasks.

    Lying doesn’t further your cause.

  • mhammett says:

    “After all, if broadband providers are no longer being held to a higher standard, then they have no incentive to continue offering the old speeds unless they are able to make more money from it.”

    There was no motivation to change services offered from the previous definition, why would there be now that it has gone back down?

  • mhammett says:

    “If more people begin relying on mobile carriers to provide the internet access that they can’t get at home, that would put more pressure on the carriers, which might then cause them to start charging more for their mobile data plans and reducing their data speeds.”

    Why would this non-binding definition change affect users’ purchasing and utilization habits?

  • DJ says:

    “Another reason for this decision is the fact that more people are “cutting the cord” and relying solely on smartphone data. However, as some have pointed out, even mobile plans that claim to offer unlimited data come with significant caveats: most notably, the fact that carriers reserve the right to slow down data speeds if users go above a certain data threshold.”

    Ok, so maybe use your data for necessary things and curb your viewing of funny dog videos and porn? As mhammett pointed out, a majority of things that people “need” to do doesn’t require high bandwidth. So are we going to now legislate load times?

    Right, force business to spend a ton of money on building out infrastructure all in the name of fairness. Then when that company goes under, where does it leave those folks?

    This is a solution searching for a problem.

  • Wayne says:

    This is old news and no longer true. The FCC decided not to lower the standard.

  • mhammett says:

    Typically the use of T-1s aren’t because of the lack of alternatives, but the insistence of someone in the purchasing decision train to purchase T-1s instead of something else.

  • mhammett says:

    The FCC should not have raised the reporting definition a couple years ago when they did, but they also probably shouldn’t be lowering it now either.

  • Anonymous says:

    How soon a bunch of whiners forgets the telco act of ninety whatever, dropping oodles of regulation, that instantly saw an explosion in players, innovation, speed, and choice.

    Fast forward to all those “necessary” regulations building back up, and once again the most exciting thing on telecomramblings is what lousy company is going to buy what other lousy company, and how many people will suffer in the process. And we still can’t find a player who implements software like its the 21st century. Maybe the FCC should tell us we have to. That would work.

    Mr Skywire, I might humbly suggest that if your business cannot survive without the government helping to prop up your particular business model, get into another business. Most of us are exhausted with it all. My weak-flushing toilet and squiggly bulb that lights about as well as a ukrainian bomb shelter makes it feel like I am the one in the shithole country. But hey, someone in some agency mandated it for the betterment of mankind. Big brother knows best!

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