White House report hints at increase in baseline broadband speed

High-speed broadband has become so ubiquitous in the United States that the baseline for broadband could become as high as 10 Mbps downstream, suggests a new White House report. Meanwhile, fiber-based broadband access continues to lag other media in terms of reach, even at 100-Mbps levels.

The report, “Four Years of Broadband Growth,” represents the White House’s assessment of how broadband access in the United States has improved as the result of the Obama Administration’ policies as well as significant investment from the private sector. Report authors the Office of Science and Technology Policy and The National Economic Council note that the government defines “broadband” services as 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream – although the Federal Communications Administration uses at least 4 Mbps downstream and upstream speeds of at least 1 Mbps. However, thanks to greater penetration of wired and wireless broadband access networks, 91.4% of Americans have access to wired broadband networks that are advertised as capable of offering 10 Mbps downstream, the report authors assert. Wireless networks capable of such downstream speeds reach 81% of the U.S. population, the report adds.

“Nonetheless, we acknowledge that the country is rapidly reaching the point at which baseline broadband evaluations should increase, and might instead begin at 10 Mbps downstream. This evolving baseline reflects a growing need for increased bandwidth as more Americans use the Internet for work and to build career skills,” the authors suggest.

While the government has helped fund broadband expansion through such programs as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, private industry has footed most of the bill for broadband access network improvements. The report says that the private sector has invested nearly $250 billion to improve wired and wireless broadband infrastructure since President Obama took office in January 2009.

The report also notes that more fiber cables have been deployed in the United States over the last two years than in any similar period since 2000, according to the FCC. That said, fiber to the home (FTTH) has a ways to go before it becomes the primary means of broadband services access. According to the report, only 19.86% of the population has access to 10-Mbps downstream services available to them via FTTH. This compares to just over 86% offered this speed via cable operators, just over 43% via DSL, and 78% via wireless.

Fiber’s support of 100 Mbps by percentage is even worse comparatively. Fiber-fed 100-Mbps services are available to only 6.79% of the U.S. population, compared with 44.22% of the population via hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks. The only data rate that FTTH dominates is 1-Gbps services, which the report says are only available via fiber cable. However, a mere 3.1% of the U.S. population has access to such services, according to the report.

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