FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel is circulating a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) that would begin the commission’s annual analysis of the state of U.S. broadband. It proposes that the broadband speed definition be increased and recommends an even more ambitious longer term national goal.
The NOI calls for download and upload speeds to be increased from 25 Mbps/3 Mbps to 100 Mbps/20 Mbps, respectively. A press release points to the minimum broadband speed deployments of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as a rationale for the increase.
The longer term national goal proposal is 1 Gbps/500 Mbps downstream/upstream. Rosenworcel suggests that affordability, adoption, availability and equitable access be factors in determining if broadband is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.
“The needs of internet users long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online,” Rosenworcel said in a press release about the proposed change to the broadband speed definition. “The 25/3 metric isn’t just behind the times, it’s a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline. That’s why we need to raise the standard for minimum broadband speeds now and while also aiming even higher for the future, because we need to set big goals if we want everyone everywhere to have a fair shot at 21st century success.”
The definition of broadband for the purposes of the annual FCC Broadband Deployment Report has long been controversial. The 2021 FCC Broadband Deployment Report was released on January 19, 2021, the day before Joe Biden was sworn in as president. The report said that significant progress had been made in bridging digital divide based on the 25/3 Mbps definition. That view was contested by Democratic FCC Commissioner, Geoffrey Starks, who said that tens of millions of people still did not have access and that the FCC should not take “unwarranted victory laps.”
Among other things, the report claimed that the gap between urban and rural Americans with access to 25/3 Mbps fixed broadband dropped 30% from the end of 2016 to 16% 2019 and that 83% of Americans live in areas served by at least 25 download and 3 Mbps upload, a 15% increase since 2016.
The FCC’s broadband availability data has come under widespread criticism, however — an issue that the commission is currently in the process of remedying via new broadband data collection process.