Last year the FCC had the US rejoicing when it upped the minimum requirements for broadband from 4Mbps to 25Mbps. It meant that many internet service providers could no longer classify their service as broadband. So while it didn't instantly improve speeds, it did shame ISPs and cost them in the tax breaks and grants that come with this classification.
What's good for us isn't good for telecoms and their puppy dogs in congress. While we all high-fived each other and talked about how we were one step closer to competing with the South Koreans in how many K-dramas we could stream at once, six United States senators looked at the FCC announcement -- and they said NOPE. Then they waited a few months before getting together to pen a letter to the FCC.
- Steve Daines (R-MT)
- Roger Wicker (R-MS)
- Roy Blunt (R-MO)
- Deb Fischer (R-NE)
- Ron Johnson (R-WI)
- Cory Gardner (R-CO)
These six are smart man. Real smart. They went to college and have degrees and they know how much internet an average household needs. It ain't the 25Mpbs Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, announced. That's too fast! Too much speed.
"We are concerned that this arbitrary 25/3 Mbps benchmark fails to accurately capture what most Americans consider broadband," they said in their letter.
Well yes. Less than 1 in 4 Americans -- 24.3 per cent to be exact -- have access to speeds higher than 15Mbps. Bully for them, but that means that more than 75 per cent of the population hasn't even come close to experiencing broadband speeds. Of course they're not going to define 25Mbps as broadband. That's like expecting a peasant in Elizabethan England to define clean as "not wreaking of excrement and general filth."
In their letter, sent to Tom Wheeler and the FCC on January 21, 2016, the senators note that "we are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps."
"Netflix, for examples, recommends a download speed of 5 Mbps to receive high-definition streaming video, and Amazon recommends a speed of 3.5 Mbps." This is very true. They do recommend those speeds. For one stream. In one home. If three different people live in a home and watch three different shows? That's 15Mbps and 10.5Mbps needed respectively.
If those same people want to enjoy entertainment on their new 4K TV -- because that is almost exclusively the kind of television currently available for purchase. They will need...25Mbps for a single stream.
But hey, these Senators are just looking out for you. They know what's best because they can find the lowest speed requirement on the Netflix site.
And they know what's best for all you folks living in the bumtits of nowhere. Way back in 2010 the FCC launched a new program called the Connect America Fund. This was designed to help improve speeds in rural America. At the time companies could receive subsidies if they provided speeds of 4Mbps.
This was upped in 2014 to 10Mbps after a little battle with ISPs. They were peeved about the new requirement. It was not, officially, upped to 25Mbps in 2015 when Wheeler announced the new definition for broadband.
The senators point this out, because "we would remind you that the FCC is tasked with implementing policies and procedures that advance universal service -- ensuring all Americans have access to comparable service at comparable rates."
They don't actually want anything. Except to complain about the discrepancy and say that it's not fair. Also they stamp their feet a lot. But, you know, in letter form.
These Senators are incredibly short-sighted and it's clear that they haven't done any research or read any periodicals or spoken to any experts beyond the lobbyists begging them to write this letter in the first place. Their letter suggests that they operate in a vacuum where Netflix isn't nearly 40-per cent of all internet traffic and 4K televisions aren't rapidly increasing their marketshare and their own constituents aren't clamoring for better access to the internet.
Particularly egregious is that these senators are all from relatively rural states where the internet, when available, is slow and expensive and competition between ISPs is virtually non-existent. There are 3 millions residents of Mississippi and only 34-per cent of those residents have internet speeds of 10Mbps or higher. But sure senators, the real problem is Tom Wheeler trying to hold the ISPs to some kind of reasonable standards.
Read the senators' entire letter below. Bonus points if you can see where they just copy and pasted sentences from ISP lobbyists.
All data regarding current internet speeds and usage was pulled from State of the Internet, an offshoot of Akamai content delivery network.
Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images