By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday proposed changing how it measures high-speed Internet to potentially require download speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) or higher for a service to qualify as broadband.
The FCC currently defines broadband, or high-speed Internet, as 4 Mbps download speed and 1 Mbps upload speed. The agency will seek public comment on whether those bandwidth thresholds should be increased and whether different ones should be set for wired and wireless connections.
In a "notice of inquiry" released on Tuesday, the FCC asked whether download speeds of 10 Mbps or higher should qualify as broadband and whether the minimum upload speed rate should also be higher to adequately address consumers' needs.
"As more people adopt faster broadband speeds, we are asking if all consumers, even in the most rural regions, should have greater access to better broadband," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.
U.S. consumers are increasingly using the Internet to stream music and videos, make calls or use other services that continue to demand faster speeds. For instance, Netflix recommends a 5 Mbps Internet connection speed to stream video in high definition.
The FCC's recent assessments suggested a 10 Mbps download bandwidth benchmark could satisfy moderate but not high Internet use by a household of three.
U.S. telecommunications law gives the FCC the authority to regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Verizon Communications Inc, Comcast Corp and AT&T Inc as it oversees the roll-out of broadband services to all Americans "in a reasonable and timely fashion."
A higher speed threshold for broadband, could influence the U.S. government's perspective on competition among ISPs.
The FCC's recent reviews have found a notable portion of the U.S. population, particularly in rural areas, lacks access to high-speed Internet. If adopted, a stricter broadband definition could mean an even smaller part of the U.S. population would be deemed as having access to broadband and could reduce the areas of the country where the FCC considers high-speed Internet to be available.
In Tuesday's notice, the FCC asks when it may consider mobile services as a "functional equivalent" for fixed broadband and how it should address broadband availability in areas where multiple ISPs operate but no service meets the broadband benchmark on its own.
It also seeks comment on whether the FCC should measure speeds during hours of regular or peak use, how or whether it should consider the impact of data caps, and various other factors it could weigh.
In its latest report on progress in broadband deployment, in 2012, the FCC found 6 percent of Americans lacked access to fixed broadband service. In rural areas, that group comprised one-fourth of the population.
The FCC now will collect comments on a potential change of broadband definition for 45 days as it prepares a new Broadband Progress Report, an FCC official said.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh. Editing by Ros Krasny, Andre Grenon and Paul Simao)