Feds Want to Know How to Define ‘Broadband’

Amid all the sturm und drang surrounding the broadband debate in Washington, the agency sitting at Ground Zero decided it might be worth its while to define the term.

As it presses ahead with its work developing a national broadband strategy, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a public notice asking for input on what, exactly, broadband should mean.

“If we want to decide who has and who does not have broadband, we actually need to agree on what we mean by broadband,” Carlos Kirjner, the FCC chairman’s adviser on broadband, wrote in a post on the agency’s new blog.

Launched earlier this week to chronicle the agency’s activities on the broadband front, the blog — dubbed “Blogband” — is one of newly minted Chairman Julius Genachowski’s early efforts toward making the FCC more accessible to the public. And yes, they’ve got a Twitter feed, too.

At the core of the agency’s call for comment on the broadband definition is the concern that the term means different things to different people. Kirjner noted that it’s commonly defined by the throughput speed, such as 256 Kbps or 10 Mbps.

But he pointed to studies that have highlighted the disparity between the speed an ISP advertises and what users commonly experience.

“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,” he said.

By any measure, U.S. policymakers have become convinced that the nation lags behind its foreign competitors broadband, a view supported by numerous global studies.

Reacting in part to those concerns, Congress allocated $7.2 billion for broadband projects in the February economic stimulus bill. It also directed the FCC to develop a forward-looking national broadband strategy, which the agency is due to present to Congress next February.

Eying the mobile market

As it works toward a definition of broadband and the larger national roadmap, the FCC is also pressing forward with an inquiry into the wireless market.

At its next public meeting, scheduled for next Thursday, the agency plans to consider a pair of items examining the level of competition in the wireless industry, and what the agency can do to spur investment and innovation.

Large mobile providers have been under increasing regulatory scrutiny in recent months, as lawmakers and regulators have been taking a hard look at industry practices such as text-messaging rates and the exclusive agreements carriers sign with handset makers.

The agency had set today as the deadline for AT&T, Apple and Google to respond to letters of inquiry about the decision to keep Google’s Voice application off the iPhone. That tussle revived the simmering frustration many have expresses with carriers barring applications that could compete with their service, and has seen calls for the FCC to enact firm open access rules for wireless networks.

AT&T’s move to keep VoIP service Skype from connecting to its 3G network was another such flare-up.

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