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FCC Ups the Ante: Minimum Broadband Speed Now 100 Mbps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently made a significant change in how it defines "broadband internet." In a 3-2 vote on March 15, 2024, the FCC raised the minimum benchmark download speed from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps, with a corresponding increase in upload speed from 3 Mbps to 20 Mbps. This decision reflects the growing demands of modern internet usage and aims to bridge the digital divide in the United States.

Why the Change?

The FCC's previous benchmark, established in 2015, was deemed outdated in light of the ever-increasing reliance on high-bandwidth activities. Streaming high-definition video, participating in video conferencing, online gaming, and cloud storage all require significantly faster speeds than what was previously considered "broadband." The FCC's new benchmark aims to ensure that all Americans have access to internet service capable of supporting these essential activities.

What Does This Mean for Consumers?

The new benchmark has several implications for consumers:

  • Potentially Faster Speeds: This decision doesn't guarantee an automatic speed upgrade for existing plans. However, it could put pressure on internet service providers (ISPs) to offer more competitive plans that meet or exceed the new standard.

  • Funding for Broadband Expansion: The FCC's benchmark is used to allocate federal and state funding for broadband expansion programs. With the higher standard, these programs can now target areas lacking access to truly high-speed internet.

  • Improved Benchmark for Transparency: The new standard provides a clearer picture of what constitutes "broadband" for consumers when shopping for internet plans.

What Are the Challenges?

While the new benchmark is a positive step, challenges remain:

  • Rural Divide:   Deploying high-speed internet infrastructure to rural areas is expensive. The FCC must find ways to incentivize ISPs to bridge the gap between urban and rural communities.

  • Cost for Consumers:   Faster internet speeds often come at a higher price. The FCC needs to ensure that affordable high-speed options are available to all income brackets.

  • Technology Evolution:   The FCC acknowledges that even 100 Mbps might not be enough in the near future. The commission must develop a mechanism to adapt the benchmark as technology continues to evolve.

The Road Ahead

The FCC's decision to raise the minimum broadband speed is a significant step towards ensuring equitable access to the digital world. However, it's just the first step. Addressing the challenges of rural deployment, affordability, and future-proofing the benchmark will be crucial in truly closing the digital divide and ensuring all Americans can fully participate in the digital age.

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