A draft of the FCC’s 2016 report to Congress on the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability concludes that broadband services are not being deployed to Americans in a “reasonable and timely manner,” as prescribed by Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Section 706 directs the FCC to “take immediate action” to accelerate deployment of broadband and other advanced telecommunications services if the agency finds that such deployment is not proceeding on a reasonable and timely basis. The draft report, which is scheduled for a vote on January 21 and is now circulating among the FCC’s five commissioners, is the eleventh of its kind and would dovetail with similar findings in recent years that have contributed, in part, to the FCC’s decisions in 2010 and 2015 to adopt rules promoting an open Internet.
As outlined in a fact sheet published last Thursday, the FCC based its conclusion on findings that: (1) 34 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband connections at FCC benchmark speeds of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload, (2) 39% of rural residents lack access to fixed broadband, and (3) 41% of the nation’s schools lack fixed broadband connectivity at the FCC’s short-term benchmark of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff members. Despite evidence of progress in the U.S. broadband service sector, which has seen the overall percentage of Americans who lack access to broadband drop from 20% in 2012 to 10% in 2014, the fact sheet states that the U.S. “continues to lag behind a number of other developed nations, ranking 16th out of 34 countries,” in broadband deployment. Although mobile broadband is not assessed in the draft report (due, in part, to the fact that the FCC has yet to prescribe speed benchmarks for mobile broadband), the fact sheet emphasizes that “the increasingly dynamic nature of residential and business communications requires both fixed and mobile broadband access.”
Industry officials reacted to the draft report with dismay. U.S. Telecom Association President Walter McCormick quipped that, “with more than $75 billion a year being invested by broadband providers, network capacity burgeoning, and speeds increasing exponentially . . . no one actually believes that deployment in the United States is unreasonable.” A spokeswoman for Public Knowledge declared, however, that the findings outlined in the report “will allow policymakers to take an honest look at the broadband landscape and what needs to be done to ensure that all Americans have access to . . . quality broadband.”