Universal Broadband Goals and FCC’s Path to Gigabit Speeds

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently expressed its intent to launch a comprehensive evaluation of the current state of broadband throughout the United States. The evaluation falls under the mandate of section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. One of the main focal points of the inquiry is to examine if the universal service goals, including deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband are being achieved across the nation.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel emphasized the significance of this evaluation, saying, “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 This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind.” She expressed the Commission’s aim to update the national broadband standard and set a long-term goal for gigabit speeds.

This initiative emerges amidst increasing dependency and demands for broadband and new Congressional directives featured in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This law contains the largest ever federal investment in broadband deployment. Therefore, the Notice of Inquiry (NOI) is set to reassess the Commission’s standards for evaluating broadband deployment, availability and quality of available data, as well as the framework used for section 706 findings.

In terms of specifications, the NOI proposes to raise the national fixed broadband speed benchmark to 100 Mbps (megabits per second) download and 20 Mbps upload. A significant leap from the previous 25/3 Mbps standard set in 2015 without any subsequent updates. Further, the NOI is soliciting comments on setting an ambitious national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future.

The novel aspect of this inquiry is its use of the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) data. As a result of the Broadband DATA Act passed by Congress in March 2020, the FCC now collects precise, location-specific data on broadband availability. This data collection scheme offers an enhanced understanding of broadband coverage. The Commission plans to scrutinize how these improvements may impact standards and conclusions on broadband availability.

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