Writing to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, six Senate Republicans voiced concern with recent FCC conclusions that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to Americans in a “reasonable and timely basis.”  The FCC based this finding on the lack of public access to broadband services at benchmark speeds of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload, as delineated by the FCC in its recent Section 706 report to Congress.  Charging that “this arbitrary 25/3 Mbps benchmark fails to accurately capture what most Americans consider broadband,” the senators cautioned that FCC reliance on that benchmark not only “discourages broadband providers from offering speeds at or above the benchmark” but also “contradicts the ‘broadband’ definition the Commission used in its Open Internet order.”  

Signed by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), the January 21st letter cites the FCC’s own findings that “the majority of Americans who can purchase 25 Mbps service chose not to.”  The senators told Wheeler they were aware of ‘few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps,” noting, for example, that “Netflix . . . recommends a download speed of 5 Mbps to reach high-definition streaming, and Amazon recommends a speed of 3.5 Mbps.”  Taking issue with Wheeler’s suggestion in a 2014 speech that “more regulation may be appropriate for providers that offer” broadband speeds of 25/3 Mbps or greater, the lawmakers also voiced fears “that you are putting in place disincentives for providers to offer these higher speeds—a result that no one wants.”  

The senators further pointed out that the broadband benchmark outlined by the FCC in its recent Section 706 report contradicts statements in an agency fact sheet on Connect America Fund subsidies for rural broadband deployment, as those pronouncements “only require providers to offer speeds of 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up.”  Proclaiming, “it is unclear how applying a different definition of broadband to urban and rural areas is consistent with . . . clear Congressional directive,” the lawmakers told Wheeler:  “we look forward to discussing this issue with you in the near future.”