FCC Opens Inquiry to Increase Minimum Broadband Speed Benchmark

The FCC launched a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to begin the agency’s evaluation of the state of broadband in the U.S., as required by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As part of the NOI, the Commission proposes to increase the national fixed broadband speed benchmark to 100/20 Mbps and discusses evidence supporting this standard. The FCC previously set the benchmark at 25/3 Mbps in 2015.  

“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 This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “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.” The longtime goal she’s referring to is whether the agency should set a separate national goal of 1 Gbps/500 Mbps for the future.  

In light of the increasing uses and demands for broadband and the Congressional directives contained in the bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the NOI will take a fresh look at the Commission’s standards for evaluating broadband deployment and availability. The Commission will also focus on the universal service goals of Section 706—universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband.

The inquiry will be the first to use the new Broadband Data Collection data. In March 2020, Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act. It required the Commission to collect biannual data concerning the availability and quality of service of fixed and mobile broadband internet access service for the Commission to create broadband coverage maps. The FCC now collects more precise, location-by-location broadband availability data. Through this inquiry, the Commission will review how its data collection improvements may impact the standards and inform its conclusions about broadband availability.

Public comments on the NOI are due by December 1, to GN Docket No. 22-270. Replies are due by December 18.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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