FCC still needs a good definition for 'broadband'

In order to move ahead with the National Broadband Plan, the FCC has to first say exactly what qualifies as "broadband." Today, the Commission has issued a public notice seeking a tailored public comment on exactly what the definition of broadband should be.

Already, the FCC has what it believes to be a definition for the term, presented on its Broadband.gov site inaugurated earlier this week: "The term broadband commonly refers to high-speed Internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access." But here's the thing: What, exactly, is "high?"

On the FCC's blog today, Senior Advisor Carlos Kirjner wrote, "Much of the recent debate tends to center on throughput speeds. Engineers know that these numbers by themselves are most often misleading. For example, in most cases the 'advertised' throughput speed has a tenuous relation with the actually delivered speed, which will actually vary over time, depending on the application, the server, and many other factors.

"But why do we care?" Kirjner continues. "Several reasons: (1.) If we want to decide who has and who does not have broadband, we actually need to agree on what we mean by broadband. (2.) If we want to decide who can take advantage of one type of application or another, we need to know what they are actually getting today, and what is the gap between that and what they actually need to get. (3.) If we need to know how much it would cost the country to enable all or a subset of its households and businesses to take advantage of one application or another, we need to know what the gap is between where we are and where we want to be. (4.) If we want to ensure that consumers have a clear and accurate view of what they are getting for their money, we need to decide what are the important metrics, and how to measure them."

If you'd like to submit a brief comment on your definition of "broadband," you can do so in the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System under the heading "National Broadband Plan Notice of Inquiry - Docket 09-51." The comment period closes on September 8, so look for broadband's official definition shortly thereafter.

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