Skip to main content

100/20 Mbps is Not Enough

Proposals to raise consumer broadband speeds to 100 Mbps are nothing new, dating back to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt first floating the idea in 2002 and the FCC’s “Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan” in 2021. Twenty years later with the looming availability of $65 billion in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill, 100/20 Mbps is now being touted as a “good enough” solution for many communities, just like 25 Mbps/3 Mbps had been since 2015.

But why should the U.S. settle on half-measures when it comes to once in a lifetime opportunity for investing in broadband infrastructure? COVID clearly outlined the many holes in today’s patchwork of broadband solutions to communities and homes around the nation, with delivery systems built around legacy plant (copper & fiber) and earlier technologies stretched to provide multi-person households the bandwidth necessary to support both work-from-home and remote learning at the same time.

More upstream bandwidth, preferably symmetrical bandwidth, is clearly one area where existing and proposed asymmetrical offerings fall short for both real-world home and business use cases. Asymmetrical bandwidth is justified on the assumption of one-way video streaming to multiple people in a household. It is typically the option of last resort for businesses, who need symmetrical/upstream bandwidth to support real-time communications and cloud services that are critical for work-from-home, online schooling, remote healthcare and other key applications that have become mainstream as a result of the global pandemic.

Video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and other applications – quickly showed how assumptions of less than 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds being adequate were flawed. Some municipalities worked to deploy WiFi hotspots through schools and other means to fill in broadband gaps, but students and parents alike across the country were left struggling to find a balance point between educational continuity and earning a paycheck without hometown solutions based on fiber.

While most students are back in physical classrooms today, the need for more upstream and symmetrical bandwidth goes far beyond a COVID/stay-at-home environment. Businesses of all sizes are particularly challenged for bandwidth for different reasons. Small businesses need more and symmetrical bandwidth for accessing cloud services of all types, ranging from the standards of Office 365 subscriptions and fast off-site backups to call center and video streaming.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are a necessity for enterprise remote workers, adding an additional 5 to 10 percent overhead due to the provider and protocol used. In an asymmetrical environment, there’s not a lot of room for more than a single VPN user on a connection once video conferencing or a couple of applications are fired up.

Defenders of the status quo – i.e., those who say “It’s good enough” – argue that people and businesses that don’t have enough bandwidth should “simply” move to an area where there is more. But the problem is that areas with “more” are also more expensive in terms of housing and the general cost of living – not to mention the internet service providers in those areas are investing more to extend their networks to unserved areas close by.

For example, Comcast Business is pumping $28 million to extend its “fiber-rich” network to nearly 7,000 businesses in a four state area and Washington D.C. Once completed, small to medium-sized businesses will get access to 1 Gbps and larger enterprises will be able to get 100 Gbps services. If Comcast is spending its own money to deliver 1 Gbps services to unserved customers in non-urban areas like the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Martinsburg, West Virginia, it’s hard to argue that 100/20 Mbps is sufficient today.

If the U.S. is truly going to invest in the future with $65 billion in infrastructure monies, it only makes sense to “invest once for the future” by putting money into gigabit-class (and faster) networks built around fiber that can support not only today’s needs but a future that includes 5G wireless, true work-from-anywhere (WFA) for businesses, advanced telemedicine delivery, and rich distance learning capabilities.