Republicans to FCC: Even Netflix doesn't require Internet speeds that high

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A group of Senate Republicans on Thursday expressed concern that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is setting the nation's Internet speed benchmark artificially high in order to justify more regulation. 

In a letter sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the six senators pointed out that popular video streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon only require a fraction of the 25 Megabit per second (Mbps) Internet speeds that the FCC has set as the baseline limit to classify as broadband Internet. 

"Looking at the market for broadband applications, we are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps," the senators wrote. "Netflix, for example, recommends a download speed of 5 Mbps to receive high-definition streaming video, and Amazon recommends a speed of 3.5 Mbps."

The letter was signed by Republican Sens. Steve Daines (Mont.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.). 

The FCC's broadband definition became a point of contention last year when it raised the limit six-fold, from 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps, concluding the old benchmark is "dated and inadequate." The limit is important because under communications law, the FCC is tasked with taking "immediate action" if it finds broadband Internet is not being reasonably deployed around the country. 

Advocates have said those higher speeds are necessary because often a single Internet connection powers a number of connected devices in a home. The more devices connected, the more the speed is degraded for each individual user. 

In the agency's latest report, it found that 10 percent of the population — 34 million people — do not have access to broadband Internet with a download speed of 25 Mbps and an upload speed of 3 Mbps. The five FCC commissioners will vote on whether to approve the report's conclusion's next week. 

That number would look much less drastic if the FCC's definition of broadband was significantly lower, as companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable believe is warranted. Trade groups for Internet service providers have touted the more than $1.4 trillion in infrastructure spending they have poured into their networks. 

Echoing concerns from those companies, the GOP senators said they were "perplexed" that the FCC's definition of broadband Internet is not uniform. While its progress reports use the 25 Mbps number, the FCC uses a 10 Mbps benchmark to hand out Connect America Funds, which are meant to speed up the buildout of Internet infrastructure. 

"More importantly, you have indicated that because fewer providers offer speeds of 25/3 Mbps or greater, more regulation may be appropriate for providers that offer such speeds," the senators wrote to Wheeler. 

They argued that that increased regulation could backfire, potentially slowing the buildout of faster Internet networks.