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App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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November 5, 2007 8:31 AM

Defining the Need to Redefine Broadband

The FCC has released their latest data on the state of broadband in the US. The results? A 61% increase in '06, from 51.2 million to 82.5 million lines.

While this is impressive growth, I couldn't help but throw up in my mouth a little every time I read how they define "broadband": 200Kbps, and it only has to be in one direction.

As an advocate for the endless possibilities of broadband applications, I find this definition not only outdated but offensive.

The reason I speak so strongly is because of how little one can do with 200Kbps.

Sure you might be able to send and receive email (as long as you don't have any big attachments) or surf the Web (as long as the sites you read aren't too overloaded with Flash and images), but what about all the wondrous things made possible by delivering video over the Internet?

Here's the simple truth: the lowest bitrate video I ever hear anyone talking about being able to use effectively is 250-300Kbps. Anything lower than that and you get back to the postage-stamp-sized jerky video of the early days of the Internet.

This reality holds true across the entire spectrum of video-based broadband applications, everything from YouTube to videocalling to live webcasting and beyond.

So how can we define "broadband" at a speed that isn't capable of supporting the most revolutionary things made possible by the Internet?

There has been some movement to update the FCC's definition of broadband, though while the efforts have been well-intentioned they're ultimately misguided.

The biggest push happened earlier this year when a provision was included in the broadband mapping bill currently making it's way through Congress. It mandated that the definition of broadband be based on the speed needed to support one high definition video stream.

The problem with this is that what constitutes "HD" video can be a rather ambiguous number. There isn't even a single standard for HD on TV, and it gets increasingly muddled online.

Later that definition became more concrete with a proposal of upping it to 2Mbps, which gained some popular support.

The challenge with this is that while I'm all for pushing the envelope, I don't see how we can reasonable redefine broadband at a speed beyond what's supported by a large chunk of today's access networks, most notably the common 1.5Mbps ceiling of DSL connections.

But the biggest issue I had with these efforts was the fact they all seemed focused on the download side of the broadband equation, largely ignoring the upload.

Here's what people on the Hill seem to have missed: the Internet is not a broadcast medium. While it does support the sit-and-watch paradigm of TV, where it finds its ultimate possibilities is in its ability to allow users to lean forward and participate.

For the time being, though, this discussion is much adieu about nothing. The aforementioned attempts to redefine broadband as 2Mbps downstream have been tabled for the time being so as not to interfere with the momentum of larger legislation.

But even still, this is a debate that we need to have, and 200Kbps is a definition of broadband we need to change. The only question isn't if but when and how.


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