GOP Sens. Question FCC Broadband Speed Definitions

Some Republican senators have signaled to FCC chairman Tom Wheelerthat they are scratching their heads over the FCC's use of the 25-Mbps downstream/3-Mbps upstream metric to decide that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.

They argue that while the FCC is using that to measure access to broadband, it is using a different metric for rural broadband and regulating Internet access.

The FCC's most recent fixed broadband report (and wireless broadband for that matter) came to that conclusion, much to the chagrin of ISPs investing billions to deploy that plant.

In a letter to Wheeler, a sextet of senators said they were concerned that that the "arbitrary" benchmark fails to record what most view as broadband and say they are troubled by the FCC's use of a different metric--10 Mbps--for rural broadband.

"While your 2016 Broadband Progress Report finds a deficiency in deployment at the 25/3-Mbps benchmark," they wrote, "your fact sheet touts the Connect America Fund subsidies -- which only require providers to offer speeds of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up -- as increasing broadband deployment."

The letter, which echoes a number of criticisms -- including the 10 Mbps/25 Mbps difference -- that were leveled by the FCC's Republican commissioners after the report was released, noted that Netflix recommends a 5-Mbps download speed and Amazon suggests only 3.5 Mbps.

They said it was "unclear how applying a different definition of broadband to urban and rural areas is consistent with this clear Congressional directive [of universal access]," they wrote. "Nor is it clear how the Commission can justify defining broadband by the 25/3 Mbps benchmark in one context (when assessing the market under section 706), but ignoring this definition when it sought to regulate 'broadband' Internet access providers in its Open Internet Order – there, essentially including any service above dial-up as 'broadband.' If the Commission concluded that providers are providing a 'broadband' service worthy of increased regulatory protections, it seems inconsistent for the Commission to not count all such 'broadband' providers in the Commission’s Section 706 analysis."

Signing on to the letter were Sens. Steve Daines, Roger Wicker, Roy Blunt, Deb Fischer, Ron Johnson  and Cory Gardner.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.