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FCC finds broadband speed standards sufficient

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put out a fact sheet on their (almost) yearly report on broadband: how it is being deployed and what policymakers consider to be the speeds and what characteristics the FCC will use to determine how it is being deployed. The report keeps some crucial standards in place the ALA had been tracking.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had previously 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. The Chairman suggested that the emergence of mobile services, combined with traditional wireline broadband, provides sufficient connections for people. So he had proposed a combined fixed and mobile broadband standard of 10 Mbps up and 1 Mbps down. ALA, several members of Congress and other advocates were concerned, and as we noted in our comments to the FCC: rather than ensuring commercial ISPs are meeting consumers’ needs and holding carriers accountable to existing standards, the FCC may just be choosing to “make the test easier” for those providers.

In the end, the FCC’s report keeps the definition of broadband at 25 Mbps up and 3 Mbps down and opted to continue to evaluate mobile and fixed services separately. The report also says that the FCC should consider what broadband access means “holistically,” though the fact sheet released provides little indication of what that means. On the one hand, the fact sheet indicates that broadband is being deployed in a “reasonable and timely manner” (a departure from the previous FCC). But two days earlier, Chairman Pai proposed an order to give small carriers over $500 million to deploy broadband in rural areas, indicating that, at least in these areas, broadband is not being deployed in a timely enough fashion.

This is a dynamic we will be following closely. As a policy matter, it seems the majority at the FCC would like to continue pushing for deregulation as the fact sheet argues that the reason broadband is now being deployed in a timely fashion is because of certain deregulatory actions of this FCC. But when funds are made available to support broadband, it seems the FCC’s preference is to focus on rural areas.

We look forward to the release of the full report to address additional issues 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.

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Ellen Satterwhite

Ellen Satterwhite a Washington Office 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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