The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just voted to redefine broadband as "internet which is actually fast enough to use". Now, in order to call its service broadband, companies in the US will need to guarantee download speeds of 25 Mbps or faster and upload speeds of 3 Mbps or faster. This is really, really good news.
This decision might seem arbitrary at first. After all, the FCC is just changing the definition of broadband — it's not actually forcing internet service providers to speed up connections. That's inevitably what this new policy should accomplish, however. Think about it this way: If a company can't call its service broadband, everybody will know that it's slow. So if they want to stay competitive, they will have to guarantee faster speeds.
The new policy will benefit those in rural areas and tribal most. About half of Americans in rural areas don't have access to 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up speeds, meaning that they can't take advantage of a lot of the internet's best goodies (read: streaming video). Just look at the spread:
Previously, the FCC defined broadband as 4 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. That's well below the current national average of 32.4 Mbps up and 9.9 Mbps down, and it's certainly too slow to support America's streaming video habits. So it makes good sense that the FCC wanted up change the definition of broadband — a word that's synonymous with high-speed internet — in order to motivate ISPs to improve service in those underserved areas.
That's the official take on the change. Unofficially, however, the FCC's actions stand to shake up the cable industry in some other interesting ways. The redefinition of broadband should increase competition between ISPs and cable companies as well as encourage the development of better infrastructure. The new policy could also affect the outcome of the pending Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, since the new definition means that Comcast now has fewer competitors in its broadband business. That means the Department of Justice might decide that a Mega-Comcast would look even more like a monopoly.
Of course, none of this is going to happen overnight. The FCC will have to keep a close eye on the industry to ensure that ISPs are advertising their services like they're supposed to, and many of the ISPs will need a little bit of time to upgrade their offerings. This is the first step towards progress though. The FCC's next step? Net neutrality rules.