By a 3-2 vote marked by dissents from both FCC Republicans, the FCC adopted a report at last Thursday’s monthly open meeting that increases the agency’s minimum speed threshold for broadband services to 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream. The FCC issued its decision as part of its latest report to Congress on the deployment of advanced telecommunications services pursuant to Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Under Section 706, the FCC is required to determine “whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed in a timely and reasonable fashion,” and the agency is required to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment” if it concludes such capability is not being deployed on a timely and reasonable basis.
After applying the new downstream speed benchmark, which more than quadruples the previous standard of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps enacted four years ago, the FCC found that 17% of the U.S. population and 53% of residents in rural areas lack access to broadband services. For that reason, the report proclaims that “broadband deployment in the United States – especially in rural areas – is failing to keep pace with today’s advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings” and “more work needs to be done by the private and public sectors to expand robust broadband to all Americans in a timely way.”
Meanwhile, the FCC explained that its decision to raise the speed benchmark was based on “advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers and consumer demand.” In hopes of boosting the availability of services that meet the new benchmark, the FCC also issued a Notice of Inquiry which seeks public input on actions the FCC could take to accelerate broadband deployment, promote competition, and remove barriers to investment.
Although an FCC official stressed to reporters that the decision to change the broadband speed definition would have no impact on other FCC proceedings, Commissioner Ajit Pai charged in a dissenting statement that the FCC’s goal in adopting the new benchmark is “to seize new, virtually unlimited authority to regulate the broadband marketplace” as “a thriving marketplace must be found to have failed so that the agency can regulate it back to health.” Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, meanwhile, criticized the new benchmark as “inflexible” and lamented that the FCC’s decision “ignores the significant time and costs required to expand networks.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), however, defended the ruling as one that “has the potential to dramatically boost deployment of high-speed Internet access.” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel added her support by urging her colleagues to consider adopting an even higher standard, declaring: “it’s time to dream big.”