Defining Broadband

July 19th, 2009 by · 3 Comments

A few weeks ago, the federal government chose a definition for broadband in the context of the stimulus package and the goal of extending bandwidth to all.  The bar they chose, a minimum of 768kbps down and 200kbps up, has been widely panned as a decade late.  But since then, I've been thinking that having such a 'definition' in the first place is the ludicrous part.  It just doesn't make sense to have a single threshold as our goal for every dwelling in the USA. 

We should not pretend that urban, suburban, and rural communities have ever or will ever have identical requirements and expectations.  When one lives far from everything, one should expect connectivity to be a bit harder to get.  For many people, getting away from the bustle of the city is the whole point and they know there is a trade off to be had.  Is 768/200 good enough for them?  I say it will do as a goal.  Alongside living in heavily developed areas comes the expectation of being close to everything, and I don't see how that goal can be anything less than a direct fiber connection.  In the middle you can have a tier where 5-10Mbps seem like the right goal. 

We are trapped by a buzzword - everything that isn't dialup is called broadband.  To those of us who have had DSL or cable for a decade, that definition just sounds amazingly stupid.  But it's hard to undefine a word, so what we need are some new words.  Let's truncate 'broadband' to under 2Mbps.  Let's call 2-10Mbps something else, maybe 'wideband'.  Then we can call 10-100Mbps 'ultraband', and 100Mbps+ something else - maybe 'megaband' or something. 

Then we can redefine our goals as a country such that we all have something to strive for.  Broadband for everyone, megaband for urban areas, and ultraband in between.  Any of those would be worthwhile places to put our stimulus dollars because they would take everyone forward and not imply that everyone who is not on dialup should be happy about it and shut up.

Because of the dispersion of our population, we will never 'keep up' with smaller, homogenously and densely populated countries in the strict sense of the word.  But we can do better than we have done, and maybe using a new vocabulary that fits our geography would help us get out of the rut everyone other than Verizon FIOS seems to be in.

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Categories: Government Regulations · Internet Traffic

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3 Comments So Far


  • Vincent says:

    not sure if I’d agree. Living ‘far away from everything’ doesn’t exactly mean a frontier life style. I mean, should you be expecting electricity from say 10AM until 5PM too? I agree with what you say about buzzwords, but I can’t agree to just stating 768/200 is ‘good enough’ for people in rural areas.

    • Rob Powell says:

      I’m not saying one shouldn’t expect better, just that one shouldn’t expect it at the same time and priority. Is it reasonable to expect 1Mbps in every nook and cranny before increasing our goals for everyone?

  • Infrastructure costs in the US far outstrip the broadband leaders in Japan & Europe due to the massive size of our country, in many cases precluding profitability, even with stimulus moneys. The population density in Japan, on the other hand, makes it profitable for service providers to offer “megaband” speeds to such a greater extent.

    Rob, I believe you’ve outlined a smart way to define connectivity based on the underlying challenges of building out access across a 3 million square mile nation (Japan is about 145,000 sq mi, less than 5% of the US). Equal access is neither feasible nor necessary.

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