Broadband deployment in the United States — especially in rural areas — is failing to keep pace with advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings. That’s the overall finding of a broadband progress report adopted today by the FCC.
The findings are significant in the context of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plans concerning the so-called “Net Neutrality” Order the chairman hopes to release next week.
Following the commission meeting today, Wheeler told reporters he will propose Internet protections that prohibit things like blocking and throttling. “The FCC is the public’s representative in the broadband revolution. We will use every tool in the agency’s toolbox … to make sure the Internet stays fast, fair and open for all Americans.” He said the agency took a step towards that today as the commission concluded the AWS-3 auction of 65 MHz of spectrum of midband wireless spectrum that resulted in nearly $45 billion in bids.
Reflecting advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers and consumer demand, the FCC updated its broadband benchmark speeds to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. The 4 Mbps/1 Mbps standard set in 2010 is dated and inadequate for evaluating whether advanced broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a timely way, the FCC found.
Using this updated service benchmark, the 2015 report finds that 55 million Americans — 17% of the population — lack access to advanced broadband and there’s a significant digital divide between urban and rural America: Overhalfof all rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service.
While progress has been made, the advances are not happening fast enough to keep pace with the rest of the world, the report finds. The report concludes that more work needs to be done by the private and public sectors to expand robust broadband in a timely way, and the accompanying Notice of Inquiry seeks comment on what additional steps the FCC can take to accelerate broadband deployment.
In early reaction to the report, Public Knowledge praised the commission for adjusting its criteria in a way that it says better reflects the changing needs of citizens. Edyael Casaperalta, Internet rights fellow at Public Knowledge, said in a statement the reevaluation “is long overdue” and called the update “a substantial jump.”