January 22, 2018
The Federal Communications Commission, which had considered lowering the threshold for broadband announced that it has pulled back from that idea and will continue to define home broadband as speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps). The FCC also created a new standard of a 10Mbps connection for mobile broadband, and won’t define mobile Internet service as a replacement for home broadband, an idea it considered last year. The decisions are good news for those concerned about the digital divide.
Wired reports that, “had the FCC decided to count slower connections as broadband, or accepted mobile connections as adequate, it would have effectively shifted many areas now considered underserved by broadband providers to be considered as adequately served,” and meant “less funding for broadband projects in communities stuck with slow connections.”
“Far too many Americans still lack access to high-speed Internet, and that’s why the FCC’s top priority under my leadership remains bridging the digital divide and bringing digital opportunity to all Americans,” said FCC chair Ajit Pai. The law requires the FCC to determine if “advanced telecommunications” technologies “are reaching the public quickly enough” and take action if they are not.
In its 2016 assessment, the FCC “increased its definition of broadband to 25Mbps, from 4Mbps,” which meant that 39 percent of rural Americans “lacked access to adequate speeds.” Although mobile Internet access was rejected as a substitute for broadband in 2016, Pai’s FCC issued a “notice of proposed rule making” to reconsider the issue. In 2016, Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly “accused the commission’s Democrats of setting the bar artificially high to justify more government intervention in the broadband market.”
Although the FCC did not redefine broadband, it did say “enough progress is being made to conclude that advanced telecommunications technologies are reaching the public at a reasonable pace” and “referred to the FCC’s recent decision to jettison its Obama-era net neutrality rules as an example of the action its taken in the past year to advance broadband deployment.”
Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn rejected the conclusion. “This is especially tragic when according to the Senate Joint Economic Committee, there are twelve million kids that are caught in the Homework Gap because they lack Internet service at home,” said Rosenworcel. “We should be reaching for faster speeds and universal access. Anything less than that, shortchanges our children and our future.”