Saturday, January 20, 2018

FCC Definitions are Floors, Not Ceilings

Defining what broadband means now is an arbitrary exercise, if a necessary task to measure progress. According to the current minimum definition--on fixed networks--of 25 Mbps in the downstream, many internet access services actually cannot be marketed as “broadband,” using the Federal Communications definitions.

People, app experience and markets are not affected by any such definitions, of course. It probably does not matter at all that fixed network 10 Mbps Ethernet is not “broadband,” using the FCC definition.

The definitions do not apply to other wireless or mobile networks, though, a nuance that often is missed.

Still, for most users, it does not matter that most of their Wi-Fi and mobile internet access sessions are not “broadband,” using the fixed network definition. What matters is that user experience is good enough to provide satisfactory interactions.

“Satisfactory” often hinges on the actual use case, of course. Relatively modest speeds are required for most consumer apps, including video, somewhere between 5 Mbps and 25 Mbps. “Twitch” gamers mostly will need more.

Also, floors are not ceilings. Availability is not usage. In fact, U.S. consumer internet access speeds double about as fast as Moore’s Law would predict, and grow by an order of magnitude about every five years.

By some measures, U.S. average speeds are in the range of 19 Mbps. By other tests, even mobile access speeds are in the 23 Mbps range. Some other tests show 2017 average speeds of 55 Mbps.  

Though we tend not to pay much attention, U.S. fixed network internet access speeds used by consumers have grown about as fast as Moore’s Law would predict, at least on cable TV networks.

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