Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is in a name?

How does government define the term 'broadband'? For years the term was defined solely quantitatively. Now that the FCC has asked for comments on defining and creating metrics to measure broadband, there are some proposals to include more than mere quantitative criteria such as:

Network neutral operation (no blocking legal material, no throttling of connections...)
Ability to watch streaming video, HD video, without noticeable lag
Ability to play games with low latency

There are numerous suggestions, which can be seen here. Defining the term broadband is important, and there is consensus on this point. However the number of stakeholders with a vested interest in defining broadband may not be able to reach an agreeable definition.

The process that the FCC has started does at least allow for input into the decision making process from any interested parties. For years many broadband access advocates decried the early definition of broadband as out of date and unrepresentative of the real world.

For my own part, I do wish broadband access was available for everyone, but realize many factors influence download and upload speeds that users experience during Internet usage. Yet it is my opinion that we should keep it simple and reach consensus on the following core points to define broadband.

1) Download and upload speeds as realized between the user and the ISP local office/node should be measured by the FCC. ISPs advertise certain speeds, but often cannot in reality deliver those speeds outside of the local area. Admittedly I am unaware of exactly what speeds are needed for popular activities such as watching streaming video and VOIP. I would suggest that the speed requirements for both functions be a basis to define broadband.

2)Data that can be legally accessed, to include websites and P2P networks, will not be blocked by ISPs.

3) Network management is acceptable. An ISP will manage its network as it deems prudent to maintain overall performance to end users and maintain compliance with points 1 and 2.

My recommendations are quite simple and will surely strike a wrong chord with some, but it is an attempt to bring the different stakeholders together on, what I feel, are three core issues that have emerged in the discussion to define broadband.