The FCC just quadrupled the download speed required to market internet as ‘broadband’

Estimated read time 2 min read

The FCC has raised the speeds required to describe internet service as “broadband” for the first time since 2015. The agency’s annual high-speed internet assessment concluded that 100 Mbps downloads and 20 Mbps uploads will be the new standard. The news will likely irk ISPs who would love to keep pointing to 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps speeds (the previous standards) and convincing people they’re getting high-speed broadband.

The FCC’s report broke down several areas where the country’s online infrastructure falls short. The agency concluded that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to serve Americans, especially those in rural areas and those living on Tribal lands. “These gaps in deployment are not closing rapidly enough,” the agency wrote in its report.

More specifically, the agency said fixed terrestrial broadband service (not including satellite) has yet to be deployed to around 24 million Americans, including about 28 percent of people in rural areas and over 23 percent of those living on Tribal lands. On the mobile front, it added that about nine percent of Americans (including 36 percent in rural areas and over 20 percent on Tribal lands) lack adequate 5G cellular speeds of at least 35 Mbps down / 3 Mbps up.

The report set a long-term goal of broadband speeds of 1 Gbps down / 500 Mbps up “to give stakeholders a collective goal towards which to strive.” Those numbers may hint at where the Commission would like to move the goalposts the next time it updates them. In 2015, when the commission set the 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps requirements, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel commented, “Frankly, it should be 100 Mbps”—the benchmark the agency finally moved to today, nine years later.

The FCC can’t police ISPs to force them to boost their speeds, but this type of move may be the best card it can play. What it can do is prevent them from marketing their services as “broadband” internet if they don’t meet these thresholds. It remains to be seen whether the companies providing the infrastructure play ball or opt for other marketing buzzwords to sell customers on glacial and outdated internet speeds.