Definition of 'broadband' still a secret in U.S. plan

Some minimum speeds will be set in final document, its author says

The National Broadband Plan is due to reach Congress in two weeks, but there is still some mystery about how the plan will define the term "broadband."

The plan's chief author, Blair Levin, said in an interview Wednesday that it will set specific minimum speeds that Internet service providers will have to deliver in order to qualify for funds from the Federal Communication Commission's Universal Service Fund. But Levin revealed few details because the plan is undergoing more refinements before it is sent to Congress on March 17.

Asked how the plan actually defines broadband, Levin was noncommittal and indicated the answer was somewhat controversial.

"Let me not answer that," said Levin, the executive director of the FCC's Omnibus Broadband Initiative. He spoke in a wide-ranging interview about some features of the plan and its overarching goals to provide fast Internet connections to more Americans as part of an effort to support economic growth.

However, he noted that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's call for getting Internet service speeds of 100Mbit/sec. to 100 million U.S homes as one indication of what broadband goals for the nation should be.

When pressed to name the minimum speed that will define broadband in the plan, Levin also refused to give one and explained, "We will certainly be saying, Here's what is required under the Universal Service Fund [for Internet service providers] and you'd better be able to produce these speeds."

The USF, created by the FCC in 1996, is designed to support telecommunications services in underserved areas, although reforms have been suggested by many groups for years.

Levin added that the minimum speeds in the plan will be "faster than dial-up," which is similar to how a recent survey sponsored by the FCC referred to the term "broadband." The survey described home broadband users as those who have almost any Internet connection other than dial-up, such as a cable modem, DSL, fixed wireless, satellite, fiber optic, T-1 or a mobile broadband wireless connection.

Cable and DSL, the most widely used home Internet connections, can theoretically reach speeds of 30Mbit/sec. and 10Mbit/sec., respectively, but average speeds are often much slower.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed @matthamblen or subscribe to . His e-mail address is

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