FCC seeks input on upgrading national broadband speeds

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed raising the national fixed broadband speed benchmark for the first time in eight years.

In a new Notice of Inquiry (NOI), the Commission advocated an increase for the national fixed broadband speed benchmark to 100/20 Mbps, and “discusses a range of evidence supporting this standard.”  

An NOI is a formal way for the FCC to gather information and feedback from the public, industry experts and other stakeholders. In this case, the FCC is using an NOI to initiate an evaluation of broadband services in the U.S. as required by the Telecommunications Act (1996).

The Telecommunication Act requires the FCC to report annually on whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” and to take “immediate action” if it is not. 

The FCC set the benchmark at 25/3 Mbps in February, 2015 and has not updated it since. “During the pandemic and even before it, the needs of internet users surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 standard for broadband. This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement this week. 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) previously explained the broadband benchmark is important because it has historically been considered or even adopted by government entities tasked with distributing broadband funding.

The FCC's inquiry is also seeking comment on setting a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps “for the future.”

Rosenworcel added in her statement, “In order to get big things done, it is essential to set big goals.  That is why we are kicking off this inquiry to update our national broadband standard and also set a long-term goal for gigabit speeds.”

INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering told Fierce Telecom he is “encouraged to see the Commission seek comment on setting a national goal of 1 Gigabit per second for the future.”

Since 2017, INCOMPAS has urged the FCC to increase its internet speed benchmark. The trade association last August told the FCC, “Now is the time to take steps toward achieving a future of connectivity with faster speeds and affordable prices in the U.S.”

Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) Director of Communications Mike Wendy said WISPA supported the 100/20 Mbps standard in the case of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

However, Wendy said, “It’s important that the inquiry look at how consumers truly use broadband, and what realistic trends in that use are.”

Wendy told Fierce Telecom WISPA does not have an official position yet for the NOI, but that the Commission should create a “realistic benchmark which is inclusive, and works to bring in more solutions, ultimately to the benefit of those in un- and underserved areas of the country.”

FCC considers 'universal service standard'

In addition to focusing on changing the broadband benchmark, the FCC inquiry focuses on setting a “universal service standard.” Particularly, the FCC will examine the universal service goals in the Telecommunications Act, which include deployment, affordability, adoption, availability and equitable access to broadband throughout the U.S.

The inquiry will be the first to use the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) data, which resulted from Congress passing the Broadband DATA Act in March 2020. That legislation required the FCC to collect biannual data about the availability and quality of fixed and mobile broadband access so the Commission could create better broadband coverage maps. 

The FCC claimed that it now collects “more precise, location-by-location broadband availability data through the BDC. “