We Need a Definition of High-Speed Broadband

< rant >

I sometimes wonder if we need to take some real action to define “Broadband” and “High-Speed” internet services. The range of what is considered high-speed or broadband in the US seems to range from 768K DSL to 50 Mbps fiber.

A good example is a flyer from at&t I received last week that was literally slipped under my front door. The people behind these ads obviously don’t read my blog and what I’ve written about broadband 🙂 Here is the scan of the ad below — notice the “high speed internet” claims with “up to 768 Kbps” downstream speeds:

The current FCC definition of broadband is pretty emblematic of the problem too:

What Is Broadband?
Broadband or high-speed Internet access allows users to access the Internet and Internet-related services at significantly higher speeds than those available through “dial-up” Internet access services. Broadband speeds vary significantly depending on the particular type and level of service ordered and may range from as low as 200 kilobits per second (kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, to six megabits per second (Mbps), or 6,000,000 bits per second. Some recent offerings even include 50 to 100 Mbps. Broadband services for residential consumers typically provide faster downstream speeds (from the Internet to your computer) than upstream speeds (from your computer to the Internet).

As more and more of what we consume online requires real broadband, you see services assuming at least 1.5 Mbps connections, such as the new OnLive gaming service:

What kind of Internet connection do I need to use the OnLive Service?
OnLive works over nearly any broadband connection (DSL, cable modem, fiber, or through the LAN at your college or office). For Standard-Definition TV resolution, OnLive needs a 1.5 Mbps connection. For HDTV resolution (720p60), OnLive needs 5 Mbps.

You could easily see someone signing up for that 768K service and thinking they have broadband, when most web developers would think of them as near dial-up 🙂

The Solution: So while some ISPs battle it out mainly over pricing, I think it would be helpful for a coalition of web companies to declare the minimum speed for broadband for both up and down speeds ( I would argue 3 Mbps down, 1.5 up for 2010) as it related to the services they are offering, and even put together a schedule to increase the minimum requirements over the next 5 years so we get to something closer to what my colleagues in Japan have.

We could then have a site called something like doireallyhavetruebroadband.org that would do a speed test, and tell you where you stand with your ISP, and where to get real broadband if you don’t have it.

Now I realize most people are lucky if they have more than one broadband provider in their area, but with more wireless options out there these days, and markets getting more competitive, I think this would be a good start and would help consumers make the right choices – and ultimately make the web better.

</rant>  🙂