FCC 25 Mbps Decision Draws Diverse Crowd

Range of Reaction to Change in Speed Threshold
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The FCC drew understandably mixed reactions from Washington communications players to its vote Jan. 29 to make 25 Mbps the new high-speed broadband threshold for its Sec. 706 determination of whether advanced telecom is being deployed in timely fashion nationwide.

The commission concluded that deployment was not timely and also sought suggestions on how to make it so.

Public Knowledge praised the move, but suggested the FCC should be aiming for the 100 Mbps in the National Broadband Plan. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also suggested that was the prize the agency should have its eyes on.

“The FCC's reevaluation of the broadband marketplace is long overdue. The law directs the FCC to periodically revisit and update its standards for broadband to take into account advances in technology, consumer behavior, and the marketplace," said Internet rights fellow Edyael Casaperalta. "For too long, the FCC has gotten by with an outdated standard for broadband, and as a result its analysis of the marketplace grew increasingly antiquated. As a result, discussions around broadband policy have been muddied....

"“The National Broadband Plan set a goal stating that, by 2020, ‘at least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second.’  Today’s report is an important finding of fact that can help the FCC more accurately assess our progress toward that goal...We encourage the FCC to gradually improve its standards in the future to keep pace with the state of the art in broadband, including taking into account billing and network management practices, such as data caps.”

The Communications Workers of America agreed broadband deployment needed goosing.

"CWA concurs with the FCC that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner, leaving too many consumers, businesses, and communities on the wrong side of the digital divide." it said in a statement. "CWA calls on policymakers to focus on this critical issue and stands ready to work with broadband companies, federal and state policymakers and community leaders seeking solutions to get high-speed wired Internet connections to all communities.  Leaving any community behind is not an acceptable solution." CWA members include those who will get more work from getting higher speed broadband built out to more places.

NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association was cautiously supportive, but used the move to push for more Universal Service Funding to keep pace. Those are the subsidies to help provide service in uneconomical-to-build areas, mostly rural.

"[T]he FCC has set a new yardstick for broadband—25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association supports efforts to increase broadband speeds for all Americans," said senior vice president of policy Michael Romano  but federal universal service mandates also then require reasonably comparable services at reasonably comparable rates in rural and urban areas. 

“While small rural carriers have been incredibly resourceful to date and have long led the charge on delivering high-quality broadband in rural America, it is a tall task indeed to ask them to deliver materially higher speeds over time on the basis of a universal service program that is the same size as it was 4 years ago—when the target speed was 4/1 Mbps—and with intercarrier compensation revenues continuing to decline."

The FCC recently upped the USF baseline speed for advanced telecom to 10 Mbps with an eye toward eventually boosting that, too.

On the other side was the Internet Technology & Innovation Foundation.

"By changing the definition of broadband from the current speed of 4 Mbps to an astounding 25 Mbps, Chairman Wheeler seems intent on taking a giant leap for mankind when what we need is a measured step," said ITIF policy analyst Doug Brake. "No nation on earth would qualify under a 25 Mbps standard, not even South Korea, which has the world’s fastest connections today.

"Twenty-five is an arbitrary number that isn’t based on rigorous analysis. It appears designed to exclude a number of competitors, ensuring a finding of little competition that will trigger the Commission’s authority to regulate broadband providers under its freshly expanded section 706 jurisdiction [Sec. 706 allows/mandates the FCC to regulate broadband if it finds advanced telecom is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion]....It makes sense to revisit our expectations around broadband deployment from time to time, but those evaluations should be based on solid analysis of what throughput is necessary for various applications and consumer expectations, not wishful thinking that ignores marketplace realities."

That is a point both cable operators and the FCC's two dissenting Republican commissioners made in criticizing the move. Republican legislators are trying to pass a bill that would "clarify" that Sec. 706 is not a broad grant of broadband regulatory authority.

TechFreedom was not too pleased.

“The FCC has been playing political games with the 706 report since 2010, when it suddenly declared deployment inadequate in order to justify its net neutrality regulations,” said TechFreedom president Berin Szoka. “Just a month ago, [FCC Chairman Tom] Wheeler raised the speed benchmark 250% — to 10 Mbps. Now he’s raising it by another 250%, and assessing 2013 deployment data by the ‘need’ of the top 1% that had 4K televisions that year. This new threshold may titillate John Oliver’s clicktivist ‘monsters,’ but it’s a new low in cynical, elitist politics at the FCC."

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