Federal Broadband Speed/Illustration by Design Department Federal Broadband Speed Illustration by Design Department

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama endorsed a federally mandated National Broadband Plan to promote Internet connectivity. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) directed the FCC to establish a National Broadband Plan. The federal government is now poised to follow through on that idea, but it may prove to be a hollow victory for those who've long advocated for higher minimum broadband speeds.

Broadband advocates and some vendors consider standards tied to the $7.2 billion for broadband projects in ARRA indicators of what will come from an overall broadband strategy. And some don't like what they see. The federal government set 768 kilobits per second (Kbps) for downloading and 200 Kbps for uploading as minimum acceptable speeds to qualify for broadband stimulus grants.

But critics say those speeds hardly equate to true broadband.

"It's almost impossible to participate in a real-time video conference [at that speed]. It's almost impossible to share video files, music files, pictures -- any large quantity of data with a time-sensitive nature to it. It's almost impossible to do that because it's barely four times the speed of dial-up," said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, a consumer group advocating for higher speeds within the National Broadband Plan, which the FCC plans to release February.

"Certainly on the downstream side, you might be able to stream YouTube videos, but you're going to have a lot of stuttering and buffering," Turner added. "On the upstream side, it's barely enough to engage in a two-way voice over Internet phone call."

View Full Story
Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.