tom wheelerJust one month after the FCC raised the broadband speed for the Connect America Fund program, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to raise a different broadband speed benchmark — and by a considerably higher amount. Using the new benchmark speed, the commission also is poised to issue a progress report stating that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a timely fashion.

Wheeler is proposing to set the benchmark broadband speed for the annual broadband progress report at 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream – more than double the CAF target, which the FCC in December raised from 4 Mbps downstream/ 1 Mbps upstream to 10/ 1 Mbps.

The purpose of the broadband progress report is to gauge whether sufficient progress is being made toward bringing broadband to all Americans. Although the report is due annually, it has not been issued since 2012. In place of the report the FCC in 2014 issued a notice of inquiry (NOI) seeking input on whether the benchmark speed should be raised.

Impact of the 25 Mbps Broadband Definition
In a fact sheet shared with reporters, the FCC said Wheeler is circulating a draft of the long-awaited broadband progress report along with an NOI seeking input on what steps the commission should take to accelerate broadband deployment.

According to the draft report, 53% of rural Americans and 17% of all Americans lack access to 25/3 Mbps service. In urban areas, only 8% of Americans lack access to broadband, the draft report says.

Source: FCC
Source: FCC

Where broadband is available at 25/3 Mbps speeds, 28% of rural Americans and 30% of urban Americans subscribe to service at that data rate or higher, the fact sheet says.

It’s not surprising that Wheeler aims to raise the benchmark for the broadband progress report, but the amount by which he wants to raise it is somewhat surprising. The most recent NOI about raising the benchmark, released five months ago, included estimates of household broadband use based on low, moderate and high usage levels. According to those estimates, a moderate usage household might consume 8 Mbps downstream and more than 1 Mbps upstream, while a high-use household might consume 10/ 2.9 Mbps.

The estimates were based on different family members simultaneously pursuing various online activities such as watching SD or HD movies; taking online courses; browsing the web or syncing email, alerts and weather.

The two most recent broadband progress reports, from 2011 and 2012, used the 4/1 Mbps benchmark and also found that broadband was not being deployed in a timely fashion.

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4 thoughts on “FCC Eyes 25 Mbps Broadband Definition, Finds Slow Progress

  1. The FCC should foster more competition in Broadband the American Recovery act was a joke, No A La carte for cable, and they should break up the franchise process and allow all to sell triple play. Spineless and blind they are and they are leading us. Mega mergers and less competition hurt consumers!

  2. Don't understand how they can have two benchmarks – 10 Mbps for CAF and 25 Mbps for broadband. By definition, wouldn't that make all companies using CAF as not compliant with their own "new" definition of broadband?

  3. Hello Paul- I agree with you that the FCC should foster competition & some of the ideas you suggest could help further broadband in metro areas and some rural areas. But I do think there are some rural areas where there's barely enough business for one service provider to have a viable broadband business and where fostering competition isn't a sufficient solution. The purpose of the Connect America Fund is to help bring broadband to those areas & I do think it's needed.
    Hello Larry- Why the FCC didn't raise the CAF target speed higher is pretty simple, I think. The commission seems determined not to broaden the contribution base for broadband or to raise the size of the fund and it realizes it can't expect carriers to meet a 25 Mbps target at today's funding levels.

  4. Joan is definitely right when it comes to the aspect of having a viable broadband business in rural areas – many times the population can't support more than one provider.

    But here's the rub: The very small telco that I work for (think only 1,000 lines) deployed fiber to every home, farm, and business in our service area – just like the FCC wants us to deploy broadband. But now the FCC also wants to ram CAF models down our throat which strongly *penalizes* us with much less USF funds for deploying fiber because our cost is higher. Well of course its higher because the FCC wanted us to invest in broadband. Can't have it both ways.

    And to top it all off? If we have USF funding drastically cut as like the forecasts that we've seen, our small company will likely default on over $12 million in RUS loans that we took out to cover the cost of deploying broadband (fiber optics).

    So one hand of the FCC says deploy broadband; RUS says we can deploy broadband; and another branch of the FCC says you can't continue to get your current rate of USF funding if you deploy broadband, which will cause another branch of the federal government (RUS) to lose money on a loan.
    Frustrated in the Heartland

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