No, the FCC Did Not Increase Your Internet Speed.. But they do want to regulate it.

Recently, the FCC made headlines with an announcement that ostensibly seemed to require an imminent increase in internet speeds for American consumers. Yet, the reality is far more nuanced and requires a deeper understanding of what broadband means in a regulatory context, and how the FCC’s declaration has no teeth in a largely unregulated marketplace.

In my latest video, we dive into why the FCC made this declaration and some of the politics driving it.

In the commissions first adopted broadband assessment since 2015, they raised the standard for what should be considered high speed internet to 100 megabits per second downstream and 20 megabits per second upstream. The previous definition was 20 megabits down and 3 megabits up.

But this report is really more about tracking the rollout of broadband infrastructure in the United States, something the FCC is mandated to do per the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Congress set a goal of getting every American connected to broadband that year, and despite billions of taxpayer dollars going to telecommunications companies over the decades, nearly 45 million people still lack access to the minimum broadband specification in their communities. Or do they?

The FCC report excluded satellite services, even though most of the areas not covered by wireline broadband are within SpaceX Starlink’s service area. Starlink’s Internet service also meets the FCC’s newly defined minimum specifications for a broadband connection. The FCC’s two Republican commissioners voted against adopting the report because of this exclusion.

In their dissenting opinions, the Republican commissioners argue that by excluding Starlink and thus making the nation’s broadband rollout appear stalled, the Democrats on the commission are laying a foundation by which they can impose heavier regulation on Internet Service providers. This is because the 1996 telecommunication law requires the FCC to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment” if the agency issues a negative report on broadband access.

And the FCC is doing just that. On a similar 3-2 vote in November, the FCC began the process of re-classifying ISPs under Title II rules. The FCC previously moved ISPs into the Title II category during the Obama administration over net neutrality concerns which was later reversed by the Trump administration.

But Title II regulation can go far deeper than just net neutrality, including regulating pricing, requiring ISPs to provide access to remote areas, and much more. The Republicans argue that the market will take care of these things and no further regulation is needed. The Democrats say that after three decades of “light touch” regulation the broadband rollout has not achieved the 1996 goal of universal access.

But is it necessary to apply Title II everywhere? I think a more balanced approach is needed. In my area we went from one provider (Comcast) to now having five with potentially more on the way – all meeting and exceeding the minimum broadband standards with no data caps. Do we need regulation here? Likely not.

But there are parts of the country that still only have one provider that may not meet the broadband standard, applies expensive data caps on service, and holds back infrastructure investments. Perhaps regulating markets like this and lifting regulations when competitors enter those markets might be a smarter approach.

And it may not be necessary for Title II to apply either. In the 1996 law, the FCC has the ability to impose price caps, remove regulatory red-tape that prevents competitors from accessing pole attachments along with other regulatory powers to encourage competition and market choice. It is not clear how much of those powers the FCC has exercised over the years.

I’m sure there will be more to come on this topic! Stay tuned.

Gigabit ISPs: Real World Usage vs. Speed Tests

One of the things I talked about recently in my Gigabit Pro update video is that even though you have the bandwidth you likely will never make full use of it on any single task.

Sure it’s possible to run a speed test to fully saturate the connection as I have done many times, but when doing real world tasks things work differently. So even though I have a full six gigabits available, I’m usually only getting about half a gigabit to each location I’m sending data to.

The image above was taken from my Unifi app as I was uploading an 8.7 GB video to YouTube and Floatplane simultaneously. Each can only take about 500-600 megabits per second.

Remember the Internet is not one network. So it’s possible that within Comcast’s infrastructure I can utilize the full bandwidth. But once we cross outside the network it depends on how different networks interoperate and what kinds of bandwidth they allow across those crossing points. In some cases there are multiple networks to traverse!

Starlink Holding Up Against Russian Cyberattacks

Starlink has become a key communication tool for the Ukrainian military and the Russians are having a hard time detecting and jamming it. As we’ve found in our Starlink coverage the service is remarkably easy to connect to and offers bandwidth on par with low to mid range cable Internet services.

Elon Musk in a tweet today says that the satellite network has so far resisted Russian jamming and hacking attempts. Starlink’s network engineers are up against a tough adversary with state level resources so they no doubt will have to remain on their toes.

The service doesn’t work as well in the eastern part of the country as the satellite network still relies on ground stations to connect users to the Internet. But SpaceX is working on a laser based orbital relay that would bypass many ground stations to route traffic. At some point we might see SpaceX launch servers into positions to act as CDNs for streaming services, etc.