Minimum broadband speeds are too low, government watchdog says

Since 2015, the Federal Communications Commission has maintained that minimum broadband speed should stay the same: 25 megabits per second for downloading files, and 3 megabits per second for uploading.

Now, a government watchdog is telling the FCC to re-evaluate these rules in a new report, saying small businesses in 2021 require more bandwidth to effectively run their operations. The report, produced by the Government Accountability Office, also shows examples of small businesses around the country which aren’t even getting the minimum speed required by the FCC.

This isn’t the first time the FCC has faced heat over its broadband minimums. Earlier this year a group of senators called for the agency to raise the bottom limit to 100 Mbps for both download and upload speed.

The FCC has basically admitted that it has very little reliable data on whether people are getting the mandated minimum speeds, or access at all. Its broadband coverage maps are based on self-reported data from internet providers, who are incentivized to overstate their coverage to shirk regulation. It has attempted to create speed test apps to get more direct information, and collected complaints directly from consumers.

Anonymized data visualized by The Stock Market Pioneer paints a much bleaker picture than the FCC has admitted, with many counties reporting less than 10 percent broadband availability at minimum speeds.

But the GAO contends that there’s enough evidence to reconsider these rules. Reports from small businesses show that many want a minimum of 100 Mbps download speed, and up to 1 gigabyte per second for offices with dozens of employees. Even Zoom recommends at least 3.8 Mbps of upload speed to make high-definition video calls, which exceeds the federal minimum.

Business owners also told the GAO that while they might be able to access broadband, it’s expensive and unreliable. One Vermont inn and spa owner said that they pay $78 per month for substandard 10 Mbps speeds, and upgrading to 40 Mbps would cost a prohibitive $335 per month. Others said they had to rely on expensive satellite internet services to have any reliable access to the internet.

Raising this minimum benchmark to 100 Mbps down / 10 Mbps up would have long-term effects for people in rural communities who suffer most from these internet deserts, the GAO writes. The change would lower the percentage of rural Americans who are considered to have acceptable broadband coverage from 83 percent to 67 percent, a strong argument that providers need to invest more in rural infrastructure.

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