FCC Announces Updated Benchmark for Broadband Speeds

The Federal Communications Commission has updated its definition of what constitutes high-speed broadband, increasing it fourfold to download speeds of 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of 20 megabits per second from the 2015 benchmarks of 25/3 Mbps. The change is based on speeds available from Internet service providers, consumer usage patterns and federal and state programs, the FCC says. In a report assessing whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed “in a reasonable and timely fashion” across the U.S., the FCC concludes it is not, and that gaps in deployment are not closing rapidly enough.

That conclusion is based on factors including the total number of Americans, Americans in rural areas, and people living on Tribal lands who lack access to such capability, the FCC said in a news release.

The FCC undertakes periodic reviews per 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The FCC is required to “‘take immediate action to accelerate deployment’ and promote competition if current deployment is not ‘reasonable and timely,’” Ars Technica reports.

The FCC review found:

  • Approximately 24 million Americans — including almost 28 percent of rural Americans and more than 23 percent of those living on Tribal lands — live in areas where fixed terrestrial broadband (excluding satellite) is not physically deployed.
  • 45 million Americans lack access to both 100/20 Mbps fixed service and 35/3 Mbps mobile 5G-NR service.
  • 74 percent of school districts meet the new short-term benchmark of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff.

These findings matter, “because they let the FCC report whether it’s failing or succeeding to close the broadband gap — and how much to regulate (or throw money at) broadband providers to spread decent Internet across the United States,” The Verge writes.

“The new definition was pushed through by the FCC’s Democratic majority, something it hasn’t had for the majority of President Biden’s term in office,” The Verge adds, explaining “the FCC spent years completely deadlocked without its full five commissioners, until Anna Gomez was finally confirmed by the Senate last September.”

The prior standard “lasted through the entire Trump era and most of President Biden’s term,” reports Ars Technica, observing “a clear partisan divide on the speed standard, with Democrats pushing for a higher benchmark and Republicans arguing that it shouldn’t be raised.”

The FCC has set 1 Gbps/500 Mbps as its long-term goal for broadband speeds “to give stakeholders a collective goal towards which to strive — a better, faster, more robust system of communication for American consumers.”

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