The FCC broadband speed definition could be in for a change. Several sources report that the commission could vote as soon as next month or earlier to reduce the speed required for an internet connection to be considered broadband for purposes of the FCC’s annual broadband progress report.
The commission also could opt to consider a geographic area to be “served” by broadband if mobile service supporting the appropriate speeds is available in the area – even if fixed service is not available at those speeds.
Based on the broadband availability data gathered for the progress report, the FCC each year makes a judgement call on whether broadband is being deployed in a timely fashion.
FCC Broadband Speed Definition
Until 2015, the FCC broadband speed definition for purposes of the annual progress report was set at 4 Mbps downstream/ 1 Mbps upstream. In 2015, under the previous administration, the FCC raised the broadband speed definition for the annual report to 25/3 Mbps. The progress report issued at that time stated that broadband was not being deployed in a timely fashion, although reports for some previous years had indicated timely deployment.
Major carriers protested the broadband definition change at the time, as did Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, who now represent the majority of the five-member commission, along with fellow Republican Brendan Carr.
Current FCC Chairman (then Commissioner) Ajit Pai in 2015 questioned why the commission should use one definition of broadband for the annual progress report and a lower 10/1 Mbps definition for the Connect America Fund (CAF) broadband deployment program.
In August of last year, the Pai FCC administration issued a notice of inquiry (NOI) seeking comment on whether the broadband speed definition for the progress report should be changed and whether an area should be considered “served” if mobile service at the target speeds is available, even if fixed service is not available at those speeds. Any such changes should be driven by comments received from stakeholders in response to the NOI.
Mignon Clyburn, who was the FCC’s only Democratic commissioner at the time the NOI was adopted, argued that mobile and fixed broadband are complementary, rather than substitute technologies.
What If Changes Are Made?
If the FCC opts to change the definition of broadband in response to the NOI, it’s important to note that the changes should only impact the annual progress report and not the CAF program.
The FCC now requires carriers receiving CAF support to deploy broadband at 25/3 Mbps speeds in some areas and has established a CAF mobility fund that will help fund mobile broadband deployments in some areas that also receive support for fixed broadband. The CAF program also supports 10/1 Mbps in other areas. Regardless of what the FCC does about the annual broadband report, none of that should not change.
It’s also worth noting that at the time the FCC increased the broadband speed definition for the annual progress report, then-chairman Tom Wheeler pointed to statements made by one major carrier on the carrier’s own website urging customers to purchase broadband service in the range of 25 Mbps or higher if they have three devices or more that are simultaneously connected to broadband. The number of consumers connecting multiple devices to their broadband connections undoubtedly has increased since 2015.
Sources reporting possible changes to the broadband speed definition for the progress report include DSL Reports, CCG Consulting, and Next Century Cities. The latter is organizing a protest against the possibility of counting mobile broadband as a substitute for fixed broadband service.