Perhaps eager to make up for its chairman’s recent resoundingly dumb proposal to allow fast lanes on the internet and thereby kill net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with a much smarter and welcome proposition: the redefinition of what broadband actually is.
According to the current definition, high-speed internet access in the United States currently qualifies as any connection having a download speed of four megabits per second or higher, with an upload speed of one or higher. Given that this isn’t enough to even properly watch Netflix, let alone use many modern bandwidth-intensive applications, the regulator is planning to ask the public to comment on whether the thresholds should be modernized and raised to 10 or even 25 megabits down and 2.9 up.
If such a redefinition were to go through, the number of Americans who can be said to subscribe to broadband – currently around 94 per cent of the population – would decrease significantly.
Here in the Great White North, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s definition of broadband is almost exactly the same, with a slightly higher download threshold of five megabits per second, as well as one megabit upload. In 2011, the regulator set a goal of having total adoption of those speeds by 2015, only to have it pushed back by the federal government and its Digital Canada 150 strategy in April. As per the feds’ new plan, universal availability of five megabits now needs to happen by 2019. No reason was given for the four-year delay.
As numerous commentators have pointed out, that’s a laughably unambitious goal, both in terms of timeline and especially in speed. If the FCC does indeed raise its broadband definition thresholds, it’ll make Canada’s goals look even more ridiculous.
By way of comparison, only about 38 per cent of the Canadian population could be considered high-speed internet subscribers under the FCC’s proposed lower download threshold of 10 megabits per second. If the higher speed of 25 megabits were used, that percentage would shrink to about 27 per cent.
It’s worth noting those percentages could be even lower since upload speeds do not seem to register as important with either the CRTC or the federal government. With many provinces posting slower upload capabilities than even many developing nations, many Canadians would fall below the FCC’s prescribed minimum speed on that front. Manitoba’s average speed of 2.4 megabits, for example, means most users there wouldn’t qualify.
Higher upload speeds are key to many next-generation internet applications such as cloud services, which makes them an increasingly vital component of any broadband definitions.
In a timely report, the Canadian Public Policy Forum has just released a study on how to improve connectivity in the underserved north of the country. The report echoes criticisms of the Digital Canada 150 strategy by suggesting that the “vision could be expanded to encompass broader aspirations,” although that’s putting it in the mildest tone possible.
One great idea proposed is the creation of a national broadband czar – one office and individual who’s job it would be to co-ordinate and improve broadband services across the country, as well as in the north, where such help is needed even more direly.
Many participants in the Public Policy Forum’s discussions agreed that such a position would be ideally situated within Industry Canada. The only problem with the suggestion is that the government and Industry Minister James Moore would first have to admit that their broadband strategy is woefully inadequate. And, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, this is a government that has a hard time admitting it’s wrong.