With a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to end the digital divide next month -- but don't expect any improvement in broadband connectivity if you live in rural or under-served regions of the United States.
While many nations including Italy, Australia and Hong Kong are in various stages of nationwide gigabit broadband deployment, at its Feb. 3 meeting the FCC is widely expected to include 10Mbit/s upstream and 1Mbit/s downstream wireless broadband services in its definition of broadband, Hot Hardware reported.
Wired broadband classification would remain the same: 25Mbit/s down, 1Mbit/s up. But the FCC's plan would include a wireless broadband spec -- 10Mbit/s down, 1 Mbit/s up -- then use the combination of faster (albeit nowhere near high-speed) and wireless (slow and often costly) to decide whether a region already receives broadband coverage. The FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai has discussed this approach for a while. Now, the day of reckoning looms only weeks away. (See Broadband Downgrade: How the FCC Is Failing the Nation )
In other words, rural residents who can connect to the Internet via wireless speeds of at least 10Mbit/s will no longer be deemed "uncovered" and, therefore, their regions will no longer be eligible for federal or other government funding to deploy fiber-based broadband. No doubt urban regions without fiber immediately will lose their eligibility since it's tough to imagine any area of a city, regardless of income level, lacks cellular service. With the elasticity of this revised definition, the number of people on the wrong side of the digital divide dramatically is reduced.
Of course, they still cannot log on to telehealth systems, videoconference with education or work colleagues, access streaming media or live in a smart home. But if the vote goes through, they may be comforted in the knowledge that three people in Washington, D.C. (home to almost 40 ISPs using everything from fiber DOCSIS 3.1 to VDSL, including Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) FiOS, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and RCN Corp. ), think 10Mbit/s down, 1 Mbit/s up via cell phone is more than enough to power broadband connectivity in the US in 2018.
Or maybe they won't.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.