A range of broadband industry associations praised the FCC’s decision yesterday to change its definition of broadband for purposes of the commission’s semi-annual broadband progress report. The new definition requires a minimum speed of 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.

The Commission also set a mobile broadband benchmark of 35/3 Mbps and set a “long-term goal” for all homes to eventually have 1 Gbps/500 Mbps fixed broadband service.

Few, if any, associations commented on the report’s finding that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion in the U.S. But FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr sees that finding as a thinly veiled effort to support efforts to classify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service – a possibility that is unpopular in the telecom industry because it could lead to heavier regulation.

The progress report was adopted in a 3-2 partisan vote. But according to Carr, what the decision did was to “lay bare for everyone to see that the Section 706 inquiry is no longer about assessing the pace of broadband builds. It is about Title II. . . The FCC believes that a negative finding will empower it soon enough to impose new controls on the internet.”

Classifying broadband as a Title II service would enable the FCC to impose Net Neutrality rules, which have little support in the provider community.

Associations’ Response

Some broadband associations, however, chose to emphasize the positive aspects of the report.

NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield applauded the new FCC broadband speed definition and said the organization’s members “look forward to continuing to sustain and build upon the substantial progress they have already made toward these objectives.”

According to WISPA Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz, the 100/20 Mbps benchmark “provides a sound standard to accord with actual growth in broadband demand for the foreseeable future.” He also noted that the standard “allows all types of ISPs to meaningfully access such programs where desired.”

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), called the new broadband definition a “step in the right direction” but said it “still falls short of meeting the needs of rural communities.” Instead, he said the benchmark should be raised to at least 100/100 Mbps.

Title II Ploy? 

In an extensive rebuttal delivered at yesterday’s FCC meeting where the report and the new broadband speed definition were approved, Carr questioned the commission’s use of 15-month-old data to make its determinations, ignoring the most recent updates. The current Version 3 of the National Broadband Map shows 151.8 million fixed terrestrial locations receiving 100/20 Mbps, an increase of 6.1 million over the previous Version 2 and demonstrating an uptick in construction due to funding programs, he noted.

He also claimed that the report ignores a sharp increase in availability of Starlink low-earth orbit satellite service since late 2022.

The FCC majority heavily relied on a new factor – affordability – to reach its conclusion that broadband was not being deployed in a timely fashion, Carr said.

In his comments Commissioner Geoffrey Starks pointed specifically to the sunsetting Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) low-income broadband program.

“Over 23 million American households have relied on the ACP to subscribe to broadband. These households will soon confront a hard choice between bill shock and disconnection. We should not let that happen,” he said.

“For low-income rural Americans, the ACP has been a lifeline to ensuring they have access to connectivity,” said Commissioner Anna Gomez. “For rural Americans who are yet to be served, the end of ACP means that the [BEAD] program’s $42.5 billion investment in broadband infrastructure may not reach them.”

Carr argued, however, that the broadband progress report is not intended to measure adoption and affordability of broadband but only availability.

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