Anything less than 25Mbps can no longer be called broadband

30 Jan 2015

US telecoms watchdog FCC has redefined broadband by raising the minimum download speed from 4Mbps to 25Mbps and the minimum upload speed from 1Mbps to 3Mbps – a wake-up call to telcos worldwide.

In a world where 4G and fibre broadband services are now pushing the envelope even further, the ballsy redefinition of broadband by the FCC will prove an embarrassment to providers in countries in the developed world who peddle lesser speeds and services under the “broadband” heading.

In the US alone, the redefinition has effectively tripled the number of US households without broadband, a move that is counterintuitive to regulators in Europe who would rather gloss up the broadband figures than admit market failures.

Under the new definition, 17pc of all Americans – some 55m people – now lack access to broadband.

The redefinition casts a harsh spotlight on rural America where 20pc of premises lack even 4Mbps services.

According to the FCC, progress in broadband rollout in the US is not happening fast enough and more work needs to be done by private and public sectors to ensure robust broadband to all Americans in a timely way.

Around 43pc of Irish homes have FCC-defined broadband

Looking at European countries like Ireland, the redefinition shows that there is some way to go to match the FCC’s visionary new definition.

According to ComReg’s quarterly report for the third quarter of 2014, 43.2pc of all broadband subscriptions were equal or greater than 30Mbps.

The regulator reported that at the end of the third quarter of 2014 almost 62pc of all broadband subscriptions in Ireland were greater than 10Mbps.

And while 9pc of mobile users used 4G mobile network services with data volumes growing over 75pc, 4G is a moving target where speed and quality depends on where you are standing in built-up, highly populated areas.

If anything, the FCC’s redefinition of what constitutes broadband from 2015 onwards should be welcomed because it provides a much-needed clarity in a world where broadband services offered range from a pitiful few megabits on satellite to 240Mbps services via cable broadband.

But there is movement afoot in Ireland. Eircom has already surpassed 1m premises that are capable of receiving up to 100Mbps broadband via fibre. UPC says it now has 359,100 broadband subscribers, half of whom can receive speeds of at least 200Mbps.

The Irish Government will this year commence plans to roll out fibre to 600,000 homes and 100,000 businesses making use of overhead lines to reach rural villages and townlands.

Vodafone and ESB are working to build a €450m pure fibre network that will connect 500,000 premises in 50 towns during its first phase. The European Commission gave the joint venture the green light in October.

Not to be outdone in any way, Eircom revealed plans to connect homes and businesses in 66 Irish towns with speeds of up to 1,000Mbps, or 1Gbps.

This will be a key year in deciding the fate of Ireland’s digital economy. The FCC redefinition shows, if anything, these plans must be accelerated and achieved, and that services of no less than 100Mbps for the majority of citizens in Ireland must be a reality in the next two years.

A rising tide lifts all boats, said a wise man once.

Rural broadband image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years