How fast is fast enough? Comments on FCC broadband deployment report

Broadband Deployment Speed IconSince 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been required by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to periodically release a report assessing the country’s state of advanced telecommunications capability and to adopt measures to measure further broadband deployments. Last Friday, we submitted comments to the FCC raising two issues particularly relevant to libraries and their public missions: first, the criteria and standards for broadband deployment to public institutions like libraries and schools; second, the role of mobile internet access in connecting consumers to information.

In our comments, we asked the FCC to maintain the benchmarks for broadband to libraries set in 2014 as part of the modernization of the E-rate program: for libraries serving less than 50,000 population the FCC recommended a minimum broadband speed of 100 Mbps; for libraries serving more than 50,000 population it recommended a speed of at least 1 Gbps. We also hope the FCC will work with us to find other metrics that might help our shared policy goals of ensuring well-connected anchor institutions.

In addition, we used our comments to share our view that mobile and fixed broadband access serve complementary purposes for people, but are not the same. Given our interest in ensuring peoples’ access to information, libraries have a vested interest in the quality of broadband access people have at home. Over 90 percent of public libraries offer their patrons access to commercial reference and periodical databases from thousands of sources, most offering that access to consumers at home. Increasingly, the content is multimedia, with a heavy reliance on streaming video.

In our view, the possibility that the FCC may consider mobile internet access as part of the universal deployment of advanced telecommunications capability is troubling because the capabilities of mobile service do not yet meet those of wired broadband access. Further, many services are subject to data caps, which will disproportionately hurt consumers with lower incomes.

Why does all this matter? FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently suggested that the commission’s current standard for home broadband of 25 Mbps up and 3 Mbps down, defined under a previous FCC chairman, was perhaps unnecessarily high. Pai has proposed a mobile broadband standard of 10 Mbps up and 1 Mbps down. Rather than ensuring commercial ISPs are meeting consumers’ needs and holding carriers accountable to existing standards, the FCC may be choosing to “make the test easier” for those providers.

We are not alone in our concerns: there is a letter to Chairman Pai, supported by eight senators and 29 members of Congress, opposing his efforts to lower broadband Internet standards for millions of Americans. The full letter can be found here.

The FCC is likely to issue a report with their findings the first part of next year.

About Ellen Satterwhite

Ellen Satterwhite an ALA Office for Information Technology Policy Fellow and Vice President of the Glen Echo Group. She has years of experience at the intersection of technology and policy, including as a co-author of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and as Consumer Policy Advisor to the Commission. Satterwhite earned a Master’s in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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