Principles for a Successful IP Transition: Speed

Consumers need fast networks that allow them access to, and choice of, a full range of services to meet their needs.

In replacing the public switched telephone network (PSTN), consumers need truly high speed networks with low-latency and jitter so that these networks are capable of fully supporting legacy PSTN services like faxing, modems, and text telephone (TTY) services that are sensitive to network quality.

All stakeholders we spoke with agreed that people want fast networks. That said, the issue of equity when it comes to Internet speed is a strongly held value among many advocates. Their stance relies on language going all the way back to the 1934 Communications Act that addresses access to similar services no matter where subscribers reside. The issue is complicated, however, and technically challenging.

Although progress is being made in increasing the speed of transporting data over wireless-based networks, most areas are still a work in progress. More and more people, led by communities of color, are relying on smartphones as their main connection to the Internet – most often because of cost. On top of that, rural areas will become increasingly dependent on the technology as people in remote areas see their old wired networks retired and replaced by wireless. Given that reality, how should the FCC proceed? “There should be some standards on issues of fairness and equity – this isn’t just about leveling the playing field rhetoric. It’s about actually addressing preexisting disparities with real world consequences,” said amalia deloney of the Center for Media Justice. She noted that most people have no idea of what their Internet speed is or what they are supposed to receive.

Some advocates believe that given the growing use of the Internet for academic purposes as well as testing, the FCC should be forward-thinking. “As a goal, we should aim high,” said Olivia Wein of the National Consumer Law Center. “If we don’t expect excellence, we are not going to see it. We should demand it.” She said students should be able to access needed materials no matter where they live. If they can’t, she said, “It will have huge, damaging ramifications.”

Matthew Rantanen of Native Public Media agreed. As a member of the San Diego Broadband Consortium, he has looked at minimum speeds needed for educational purposes and believes that educational information should guide any speed standards set as part of the IP transition. “If a learning tool needs 5 megabits, [the minimum speed] should be 5. If it is 10, it should be 10,” he said. However, as reports out of Fire Island, N.Y., and elsewhere reveal, not all wireless IP services are created equally or capable of delivering high speeds and a full range of communications services.

Speed is not just important for learning, however. For people with disabilities, faster networks allow them to communicate more effectively and efficiently using the latest technology. “Anyone who relies on broadband as their primary communications vehicle will want speed,” Karen Peltz Strauss of the FCC stated.

And while some may think seniors don’t have a need for faster Internet, that is just not the case, said Tom Kamber of the Older Adults Technology Services. “You could argue seniors aren’t using high-speed bandwidth right now,” he said. “But the older adults we are getting online are flooding to the social media sites or the video sites.”

Previous posts in this series have explored Ubiquity, Accessibility, Diversity, Openness, Competition, Interconnection, Trustworthiness, and Robustness and Resiliency. These are all part of the the 10 interrelated principles for a successful IP transition identified in our new report, The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities. Tomorrow, we'll look at Innovation.

By Kevin Taglang.