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August 10, 2017

Don’t worry — the FCC doesn’t want a mobile broadband speed cap, just standards

by John_A

Why it matters to you

The FCC is seeking to oversee the pace of America’s mobile broadband rollout, but it needs a set of standard speeds as a foundation.

The latest “state of the internet” inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now seeking comment regarding the default speed for mobile “broadband” connectivity. The document lists 10 megabits per second (10Mbps) as the standard download speed, and 1Mbps for uploads. It’s part of the FCC’s yearly investigation into the rate at which internet connectivity is being deployed to the general American population.

At one time, the term “broadband” was used to classify always-on internet access that’s faster than a dial-up modem. In 2010, the FCC determined that basic broadband access had a standard download speed of 4Mbps, and an upload speed of 1Mbps. Those numbers increased in 2015 to 25Mbps for downloads, and 3Mbps for uploads, which still remain effective.

Meanwhile, mobile internet connection speeds are throttled by a device’s proximity to the closest cellular tower. The method is similar to moving a wireless device away from a home network’s router: both have theoretical maximum speeds, but real-world data transfers are significantly lower when traveling through the air. Transfer speeds continue to diminish as you move away from the router.

Given that theoretical speeds and actual real-world speeds are two different animals, the FCC is looking for a solid benchmark to determine if mobile broadband is rolling out to Americans on a timely schedule. This is especially important for determining if internet hardware is being deployed into rural areas in a timely fashion.

“Would a download speed benchmark higher or lower than 10Mbps be appropriate for the purpose of assessing American consumers’ access to advanced telecommunications capability?” the FCC asks. “How should we appropriately consider edge speed in setting a mobile speed benchmark? How should we take into account the important issues of reliability/consistency of service and latency in the mobile broadband environment?”

The FCC determined that in early 2016, 80 percent of the Americans subscribing to a mobile internet service relied on a smartphone, up from 50 percent in the same timeframe in 2012. Actual smartphone sales rose as well, with 90 percent of the new mobile devices sold in the first quarter of 2016 consisting of smartphones. By comparison, smartphones comprised 67 percent of the mobile device sales in 2012.

According to the FCC, mobile internet subscribers saw download speeds ranging from 8Mbps to 15Mbps during the second half of 2015. Now mobile service providers like AT&T and Verizon are beefing up their unlimited data plans to accommodate the growing use of mobile internet services. Americans are supposedly feeding most of their YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook addictions using a mobile device rather than relying on a desktop or laptop.

Ultimately, the FCC believes that we need both land-based and mobile internet connections. Mobile will likely never be faster than wired, and both serve as solutions for different workloads that either work best on a smartphone, or on a desktop or laptop. To that extent, the FCC wants to make sure internet connectivity is rolled out to all Americans as quickly as possible, especially mobile broadband.

Comments regarding the FCC’s proposal for mobile broadband can be made here.

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