tom wheelerFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating a draft of this year’s Broadband Progress Report within the commission which states that 10% of Americans cannot get broadband service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The numbers are quite different for urban and rural areas, however – with 39% of rural Americans lacking access at that speed, while only 4% in urban areas lack such access.

“While this nation continues to make progress in broadband deployment, advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans,” says a summary of the progress report draft released publicly late last week.

The summary also lists the steps that the FCC is taking to increase broadband deployment, including modernizing the E-rate program that pays some of the costs of bringing broadband to schools and libraries, the Rural Broadband Experiments  program that will help bring broadband to unserved areas in 12 states, and plans by 10 price cap carriers to accept Connect America funding in exchange for a commitment to bring broadband to unserved areas within their serving areas. What the FCC doesn’t mention is an initiative that could probably make the biggest impact on closing what the commission calls a “persistent urban-rural digital divide”: the CAF program for the nation’s smaller rate of return carriers that primarily serve rural areas.

Not including this initiative most likely was not an oversight. It likely was left off the list for a different reason: Wheeler early last year pledged to have a CAF program for ROR carriers in place by year’s end, but that has not yet happened.

Progress has been made in shaping the program, but no action has yet been taken – and while a vote on the 2016 Broadband Progress Report is on the agenda for the next monthly FCC meeting scheduled for later this month, there is nothing on that agenda for an ROR CAF program, suggesting we won’t see anything until February, at the earliest.

Industry Criticism
The news about the draft report drew criticism from USTelecom and from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), with both organizations arguing that broadband is being deployed in a timely fashion.

“Private industry has invested over $1.4 trillion to build robust networks that reach most Americans and, as the Commission found just ten days ago, continue to significantly increase in speed and performance every year,” wrote the NCTA. “The fact that the Commission released the positive Measuring Broadband America report without fanfare during the quietest week of the year while trumpeting its [Broadband Progress Report] findings far and wide just two weeks later confirms that this report is more theater than substance.”

According to USTelecom, “this annual process has become a cynical exercise, one that eschews dispassionate analysis, and is patently intended to reach a predetermined conclusion that will justify a continuing expansion of the agency’s own regulatory reach.”

Harsh words for the FCC’s Broadband Report findings are not something new. Last year the commission drew considerable criticism when it raised the speed used to define broadband.

Other FCC Broadband Report Findings
Other findings from the draft of the Broadband Progress Report include:

  • 41% of schools (serving 47% of students) have not met the commission’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff
  • Only 9% of schools have fiber connections capable of meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students
  • 41% of tribal lands residents lack broadband access

Join the Conversation

6 thoughts on “FCC Broadband Report: 10% Nationwide and 39% in Rural Areas Lack 25 Mbps Service

  1. The cost of getting a data line capable of offering customers a minimum 25 Mbps data connection is ASTRONOMICAL outside of an urban area if you don't have hundreds or thousands of customers to cover that cost. Our company pays $1600 per month for a 100 Mbps line for our 82 customers. We offer a max 6 Mbps plan that provides pretty good service, we don't get many Netflix HD complaints. Any bigger pipe than that is just not financially feasible.

  2. While we have a better cost structure than Glenn, I do appreciate him bringing light to the business model for smaller providers, especially those of us that don't get USF

  3. The real eye opener will be when the six year period for CAF II money for the Price Cap carriers comes to an end and they will have to show what customers they have and have not served. The FCC will then see that a) the amount of money provided was inadequate, b) the Price Cap carriers spent most of it upgrading networks in already served areas where competition was more prevalent, and c) there should have been some penalties for not spending the money as was intended. But by then it will be too late for those rural customers to get any further USF based funding; it will be a dry well. And the RoR carriers should take heed, as they will suffer a similar fate if they chose to spend their funding unwisely.

  4. Isn't this kind of a stupid argument. The FCC CAF monies fund 10 Mbps broadband, not 25. Of course it's going to be lacking in rural areas. Hey FCC, why not up the funding so that the rural carriers who want to serve rural America can get 25 Mbps out there?

    1. The capabilities available to rural areas have improved in recent years. It used to be very difficult to even get a fiber data connection at all, but as the cellular providers have pushed LTE coverage farther out from urban areas, upgrading their systems, data providers have added lots of fiber optic cables linking those sites, high-capacity trunk lines and nodes, and conveniently, some of those fiber trunk lines run through and are located in small towns, so we can tap into them.

      Some states have even built fiber trunk lines to serve rural schools, hospitals, libraries and the like, and they also will sell data service to small businesses in the communities those lines pass through. The situation is improving, some because of government programs and some just because there is a market to be served.

      And now, some of the regional cellular providers are starting to roll out data-to-the-home cellular service using some of their spectrum for other purposes besides phone calls. This is a very exciting prospect for those living in rural areas. Our regional provider, Pioneer Cellular, announced in their recent newsletter that they will be starting up this new service sometime this year, and I am very interested in seeing how well it works.

  5. It’s always gratifying when a post generates a lively dialogue. Thanks to all of those who chimed in.
    Clearly the FCC’s differing broadband definitions raise some important questions.
    In contemplating what speeds ROR carriers will deploy when they get CAF funding, it is important to keep in mind what happened with the rural broadband experiments. Carriers weren’t allowed to ask for more support than what the price cap carriers were offered yet most of the winners agreed to deploy service at 100 Mbps downstream at that support level or less.
    Undoubtedly those carriers bid on areas that were the least costly to serve and we can’t generalize about the entire country based only on the experiment results. One thing it does illustrate, though, is that smaller carriers likely will do the most they possibly can with CAF funding – whenever the ROR CAF program finally happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don’t Miss Any of Our Content

What’s happening with broadband and why is it important? Find out by subscribing to Telecompetitor’s newsletter today.

You have Successfully Subscribed!