FCC "Broadband" Definition Simply Tracks Actual Performance

That the Federal Communications Commission, which last updated the definition of “broadband” access in 2010, is proposing to do so again should come as no surprise, given rates of speed increase that essentially double speeds about every five years, for typical users.

The Federal Communications Commission reported in February 2013 that the average high speed access speed tier subscribed to by U.S. consumers increased from 14.3 megabits per second (Mbps) to 15.6 Mbps. That was based on 2012 data, so actual 2014 speeds are undoubtedly higher.

Bandwidth growth for a high-end user since 1984In 2010, the FCC defined broadband as 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, at which point 14 million to 24 million people (perhaps 5.6 million to 9.6 million household locations) were not able to buy broadband Internet access.

Using the five-year doubling rule, and a 2010 rate of 4 Mbps, the 2015 minimum should be about 8 Mbps. By 2020, using the same rule of thumb, the minimum speed for any “broadband” connection should be about 16 Mbps, at least for fixed network connections.

With the important caveat that availability is different from purchasing behavior, about 71 percent or more of U.S. households now buy a fixed network high speed access service, according to IHS.

About 86.1 million U.S. households at the end of the first half of 2013 had broadband Internet access, translating into a 70.2 percent penetration of all American households. Penetration will reach a projected 71.3 percent at the close of 2013, up from 69.6 percent in 2012, IHS estimated at the time.

Broadband Internet will hit 74.1 percent of households by 2017, equivalent to some 94.7 million homes in the United States, IHS also predicts.

A related issue is the typical speeds made available for purchase, and the actual tiers of service bought by households.

According to thee most-recent FCC report, some 55 percent of fixed broadband subscribers receive download speeds greater than 10 Mbps (up from 48 percent in the first half of 2012 and 46 percent in 2011).

The FCC report also shows that consumers are upgrading to faster tiers of service, in part because Internet service providers are serving up faster speeds, and in part because
consumers are upgrading to faster tiers of service.

The biggest changes are occurring at the low end of the market, where 46 percent of consumers buying access at less than 1 Mbps in 2011 had upgraded in 2012.

In the year period between 2011 and 2012, the average subscribed speed reached 15.6 Mbps,  an average annualized speed increase of about 20 percent.

In fact, observers tend to underestimate rates of speed increase for Internet high speed access services. Top-end speeds The "headline" access speeds have grown as much as 50 percent annually since about 1983.

source: Broadband Trends

Percent Change of April 2012 Panelists Subscribed to Higher Tier in September 2012
source: FCC

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