In a letter to several government agencies, a bipartisan group of senators is calling for the definition of “high-speed” internet to be quadrupled.
Under former Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload as the definition of high-speed internet. To matters worse, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines high-speed access as 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps uploading.
In comparison, the top five countries in the world, in terms of internet speed, range from an average of 226.6 to 175.22 Mbps. The FCC and USDA’s definition seems glacial when placed against that backdrop.
Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Angus King (I-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH) are calling on the FCC, USDA, Department of Commerce and National Economic Council to take action. As the senators point out in their letter, the global pandemic has exacerbated the situation, forcing record numbers of individuals to work and learn from home. The abysmal upload speeds, in particular, are a major bottleneck for videoconferencing and other necessary services.
Ask any senior who connects with their physician via telemedicine, any farmer hoping to unlock the benefits of precision agriculture, 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. For any of these functions, upload speeds far greater than 3 Mbps are particularly critical.
The senators make the case that government agencies should agreed to a common definition and — since federal funding is being used to improve the nation’s broadband — to significantly increase that definition to a usable threshold.
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, including low latency, high reliability, and low network jitter, for modern and emerging uses, like two-way videoconferencing, telehealth, remote learning, health IoT, and smart grid applications. Our goal for new deployment should be symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), allowing for limited variation when dictated by geography, topography, or unreasonable cost.