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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.

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One thought on “GAO: FCC Broadband Definition May Not Cut It for Small Business Broadband Speed Needs

  1. This makes me think there’s been a lot of guessing going on because the reality is a lot of people work from home or run small businesses from there home. Me included. Businesses aside, we are living in a digital age and every household should have access to fast, reliable internet. We now bank online, check our health results and communicate with our doctors online, we apply for jobs online (in fact, my 17 year has been applying for new jobs and EVERY single one of the businesses she applied to did not have paper applications. She had to go online to apply. Add to that, her new job has her doing her initial training, you guessed it, online!), we can watch TV online (all major networks stream now and we have Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV, Disney+ , AmazonPrime, and the list goes on!), we pay our bills online, we shop online (free delivery is enticing, Prime Day, Cyber Monday, etc), video conference online, take courses online (including getting all the way up to a Master’s degrees), do our taxes online, check our credit online, I mean I can go on and on. It’s sad that every household has access to landline phones – which are becoming an obsolete thing at this point due to cell phones and nearly nationwide coverage – but the speed at which we are moving digitally we have not even come close to keeping up with internet service coverage so that every household can do things online that are literally a way of life now. So if the basics of how we do things aren’t covered in our current digital age (which isn’t going away!), yeah, it’s worse for businesses that are located just a few miles outside a town or city.

    I’m a digital marketer/web designer and I’ve been working from home as a single mom for many years. I had to move from the home I was staying in outside of a small town in order to get good internet to do my job. My dad had had a stroke and we moved in to help, but I couldn’t do my work due to poor internet options. I hated to move as I wanted to be as close as possible, but I had bills to pay and a daughter to feed.

    Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to move back with my parents. Simply 9 miles outside of town. Doesn’t seem like much, but when it comes to internet it is make or break. My only option is satellite internet from Viasat or HughesNet – both suck, MISERABLY. They claim these 35MB speeds but the latency can be 2000 – 8000ms (2-8 seconds) with even worse upload speeds. Add to that the fact they have data caps and the signal is affected by every weather event. The data caps kill me as there is never enough data for me to do my job. I used to regularly do website audits for potential customers where I’d record a live 10-15 review of their website. These brief videos eat through the data and results in my internet being shut down until my next cycle. So I had to stop the audits which have seriously affected my ability to bring on clients. I am barely surviving and cannot grow and thrive with my current options. This Multiple Myeloma has wrecked havoc on my bones. I’ve broken my back in a couple places, developed severe osteoporosis, then developed a mass in my left buttock from my groin to my hip and now use a walker to get around. I have to live with others because I need the help. But living here as severely diminished my ability to run my business.

    My only saving grace at this point has been desperately waiting for Elon Musk and StarLink to become available. So far, those that are in beta are getting decent speeds and the latency has been reduced. Better yet, StarLink has not implement data caps yet (and I hope they don’t as streaming services, videos, etc eat data) and currently only charge $99/month (which is reasonable – Viasat wanted to charge me $600/mo for 300GB of data!!! WHAT!?!?!). Honestly, satellite is not ideal, especially if you compare it to fiber cable. That’s because you must have a clear path to the sky. Most rural folks live around trees. Then weather such as wind, rain, and snow will result in lost signal so there’s no consistency in service. But right now, it’s the only damn option simply because it’s the lessor of the evils.

    How is that we’ve been more than 20 years racing into digital at an amazing speed and not had the infrastructure to support and grow with it? Like where the fuck has everyone been?

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