The FCC should analyze small business broadband speed needs and incorporate the results of this analysis when establishing speed targets for broadband support programs and other broadband programs, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
In a 40-page report, the GAO notes that FCC officials said they were not aware of any small business requirements that have been taken into consideration in determining the minimum speed benchmark.
“Without analyzing information about the speed needs of small businesses, FCC lacks assurance that its current speed benchmark is sufficient for supporting broadband access that meets the needs of approximately 32 million small businesses in the United States,” the report says.
The report also notes that “[a]nalyzing small business speed requirements could help inform FCC’s determination of the benchmark speed for broadband.”
GAO wrote the FCC small business broadband report to fulfill a provision in the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 and in response to a request for the office to examine broadband for small businesses.
Report highlights include:
- The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) BroadbandUSA program published a fact sheet in 2017 stating that small businesses need a minimum of 50 Mbps to conduct tasks such as managing inventory, operating point-of-sale terminals and coordinating shipping.
- A 2019 USDA report on rural broadband and agriculture found that, as technology advances, speeds above the current 25/3 Mbps benchmark with more symmetrical upload and download speeds will be needed.
- An October 2020 interim working group report from the FCC Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force also recommended the minimum benchmark be raised in order to accommodate the large amounts of data that would need to be collected and analyzed for agriculture management.
- Recent surveys by the National Federation of Independent Business and Google estimate that about 8% of U.S. small businesses, or 2-3 million businesses, lack broadband access.
- A survey of rural small businesses sponsored by Amazon and U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center found that about 20% of rural small businesses were not using broadband, with about 5% accessing the internet with a dialup connection.
- About 23% of 2,300 small businesses and farms that submitted documents in support of broadband providers applications for USDA funding reported wanting download speeds of at least 100 Mbps.
In a letter to the GAO, the chief of the FCC’s wireline bureau said the FCC would implement GAO’s recommendation that the commission should seek comment on small business broadband needs. She said the commission would do that in connection with its Section 706 inquiry. That inquiry is used to shape the report that the commission releases annually about broadband deployment progress.