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FCC: Americans need faster Internet

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Mark Von Holden/Verizon/AP/File

(Read caption) Verizon technicians install new Verizon Fios fiber optic cables underground in New York, Dec. 2012. Broadband carriers like Comcast and Verizon control much of America’s hard-wired networks.

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The US Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday proposed changing the definition of high-speed Internet to require download speeds of 10 megabits per second (Mbps) or faster to qualify as broadband.

The commission 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 threshold connection speeds should be increased.

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In a "notice of inquiry" released on Tuesday, the FCC suggested that download speeds might need to be 10 Mbps to qualify as broadband and asked whether the minimum upload speed rate should also be higher.

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U.S. consumers are increasingly using the Web to stream music and videos, or for interactive services and applications, that continue to demand faster speeds. For instance, the popular service Netflix Inc recommends a 5 Mbps Internet connection speed to stream video in high definition.

The FCC has 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" directed by the U.S. telecommunications law.

The FCC's annual reviews have found that a notable portion of the U.S. population, particularly in rural areas, lacks access to high-speed Internet.

A higher speed threshold for broadband, if adopted, could mean an even smaller part of the U.S. population is deemed as having access to broadband Internet. It could also reduce the areas of the country where the FCC considers high-speed Internet to be available.

In its latest report on progress in broadband deployment, in 2012, the FCC found that 19 million, or 6 percent, of Americans lacked access to fixed broadband service. In rural areas, the FCC found one-fourth of the population without access to such high-speed Internet.

The agency will now collect comments on a potential change of broadband definition for 45 days as it prepares a new Broadband Progress Report, an FCC official said.