The biggest U.S. Internet service providers urged regulators to adopt a conservative definition of broadband, arguing for minimum speeds that were substantially below many other nations.
The submissions were filed with the Federal Communications Commission which had sought comments by August 31 on how the agency should define broadband for a report to be submitted to Congress early next year.
The Obama administration is seeking ways to extend broadband services to both unserved Americans living in rural areas and to make broadband affordable for those living in urban areas.
Some of the submissions from service providers argued for a definition that even undercut an international ranking of U.S. Internet speed.
A 2008 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the United States ranked 19th with an advertised rate of 9.6 megabits per second (mbps). The top three countries were Japan with 92.8 mbps, Korea with 80.8 mbps and France with 51 mbps.
The definition must include those services that Americans actually need and want -- and can afford -- to participate in the Internet-driven economy, AT&T Inc said in its comment letter to the FCC.
AT&T said regulators should keep in mind that not all applications like voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or streaming video, that require faster speeds, are necessarily needed by unserved Americans.
Verizon Communications Inc and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone Group Plc, urged the FCC to maintain speeds of at least 0.768 mbps downstream and 0.200 mbps upstream.
Those speeds are being used by the U.S. government in administering $7.2 billion in loans and grants for broadband projects as part of the U.S. economic stimulus package.
It would be disruptive and introduce confusion if the commission were to now create a new and different definition, Verizon said in its letter.
Comcast Corp, the biggest cable provider, said that simpler is better and that the actual online experience of any particular consumer at any particular moment in time involves a wide range of factors.
Many of which are outside the control of the Internet service provider, Comcast said in its letter, which argued for defining basic broadband as having a downstream and upstream speed of 0.256 mbps.
However, Free Press, a public interest group, urged Congress and the FCC to set the bar high and to consider broadband as a critical infrastructure.
In its submission, Free Press urged the FCC to craft a definition with a minimum upstream and downstream speed of at least 5 mbps for each end user.
We fully recognize that incumbents for the most part will scoff at a symmetrical definition, wrote Derek Turner, research director at Free Press. The commission must ignore any such self-serving pleas for watered-down standards.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told Reuters in July that broadband was the the major infrastructure challenge of our generation.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)