The FCC is launching a notice of inquiry (NOI) that will focus on universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband. A big part of the NOI is to determine if the FCC broadband speed definition should be updated to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

The NOI, which is mandated by section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, will be conducted in the shadow of two interrelated and important events. The first is the COVID-19 pandemic, which hugely increased reliance on the internet for business, education, entertainment and other endeavors. The other is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is pouring huge amounts of money into broadband.

“During the pandemic and even before it, the needs of internet users surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 standard for broadband. This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release about the FCC broadband speed proposal. “In order to get big things done, it is essential to set big goals. That is why we are kicking off this inquiry to update our national broadband standard and also set a long-term goal for gigabit speeds.”

The current broadband definition, which was set in 2015, is 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. In addition to updating the definition to 100 Mbps/20 Mbps, the NOI will seek comments on a national future goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps.

More broadly, the NOI will “take a fresh look at the Commission’s standards for evaluating broadband deployment and availability, the quality of the Commission’s available data, and the framework that the agency uses to make a finding under section 706,” according to the FCC.

The data element of the NOI will seek to understand how data collection realized through the Broadband DATA Act may impact standards and help the FCC come to the best conclusions about broadband availability.

The FCC’s interest in upping the definition of broadband is no secret. In July 2022, Rosenworcel circulated an NOI that prefigured the NOI released this week.  

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