As the internet becomes an increasingly integral part of our daily lives, our need for speed continues to grow. Although dial-up connections once sufficed for browsing the web back in the olden days, the range of services, features and entire platforms that we now rely on every day require the kind of connection speeds that many of us could only dream of twenty years ago.
But even as we download gigabytes of games and stream high-definition movies, the definition of what broadband is remains somewhat antiquated. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as a connection with download speeds of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) or more. But that could soon change, as The Washington Post reports.
The FCC's definition of broadband isn't stuck quite this far in the past...
4Mbps is certainly sufficient for many tasks on the web, but for a home filled with family members all wanting to get online at the same time, it is rather inadequate. Netflix, for example, recommends that to stream a HD video requires a connection with a minimum download speed of 5Mbps. If you imagine that Dad is watching a movie while Mom is chatting on Skype and the kids are playing games online, the idea of 4Mbps being an appropriate definition for modern broadband starts to make a lot less sense.
Indeed, this is precisely why the FCC is beginning a process that could result in a new interpretation of what constitutes a broadband connection. According to an unnamed official, the FCC will soon open up a public consultation on whether broadband should be redefined as 10Mbps or more, or perhaps even adjusting that baseline as high as 25Mbps and up.
...but times have certainly changed, and so has the way that we use the web
Upstream speeds will also be reviewed; the FCC confirmed that it is considering increasing the upstream component of the broadband definition from its current level of 1Mbps to 2.9Mbps.
Regulatory definitions of broadband may seem somewhat trivial at first glance, but there are important implications behind such changes. If, for example, the FCC were to redefine broadband as a connection with a downstream speed of 25Mbps or more, it could hold an internet service provider (ISP) accountable for failing to do more to ensure that its coverage meets this new standard.
ISPs will no doubt have plenty to say when the FCC opens up its consultation. While the first step in this process has already begun internally, with the distribution within the FCC of a 'notice of inquiry', the exact schedule for the public consultation has not yet been defined.