As of today, the Federal Communication Commission has updated its definition of “broadband” from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps. In effect, this means that 17% of internet users in the United States now don’t have broadband access.
This is huge news. Here’s why.
From the FCC’s press release:
Broadband deployment in the United States — especially in rural areas — is failing to keep pace with today’s advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings, according to the 2015 Broadband Progress Report adopted today by the Federal Communications Commission.
…The 4 Mbps/1 Mbps standard set in 2010 is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way, the FCC found.
In a post I wrote just last week, I talked at length about the widely held misconception — even within the tech community — that non-broadband users are a tiny, negligible minority.
Most city dwellers have a hard time swallowing the idea that a sizable chunk of the population experiences download speeds of less than 20 Mbps. (This is no doubt due to the fact that only 8% of urban Americans don’t have broadband access.)
What does this mean for site owners?
This misconception that non-broadband users are freakish outliers is a major issue when it prevents us from even acknowledging that there is a performance problem. All too often, site owners, developers, designers, and anyone else who interacts with their company website — all of whom generally fall into the category of urban broadband user — assume that their own speedy user experience is typical of all users.
The FCC’s definition puts non-broadband users on the centre stage. Seventeen percent of the population — 55 million people — is hard to ignore.
Some of the FCC’s other findings include:
- More than half of all rural Americans lack broadband access, and 20% don’t even have access to 4 Mbps service.
- 63% of residents on Tribal lands and in US territories lack broadband access.
- 35% of US schools lack access to “fiber networks capable of delivering the advanced broadband required to support today’s digital-learning tools”.
- Overall, the broadband availability gap closed by only 3% last year.
- When broadband is available, Americans living in urban and rural areas adopt it at very similar rates.
100 Mbps could be just around the corner
The FCC has also expressed that this update is just the beginning. According to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel:
“We invented the internet. We can do audacious things if we set big goals, and I think our new threshold, frankly, should be 100Mbps. I think anything short of that shortchanges our children, our future, and our new digital economy.”
It’s going to be very interesting to see how the major service providers respond to this announcement. I’m looking forward to seeing what difference this update makes — both to the level of service and to the way services are marketed to subscribers.