FCC OK With (High) Speed of Broadband Rollout

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WASHINGTON — Internet service providers who think they’ve supplied the vast majority of the U.S. with sufficient broadband speeds to “originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics and video” may have to press down on the the accelerator to meet the FCC’s standard for success.

The Obama-era Federal Communications Commission, led by then-chairman Tom Wheeler, concluded that advanced telecommunications was not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, but for the second straight year under Republican management, the FCC signaled ISPs were, indeed, getting the job done.

But in releasing its request for information on that determination, the FCC has signaled it is again looking at year-over-year gains as a sign for reasonable deployment.

It also plans to keep the definition of “high speed” at 25 Megabits per second downstream and 3 Mbps upstream, rather than move the bar and thus redefine away some deployment. FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel has taken issue with both the speed definition — it should be 100 Mbps, she said — and with the tentative finding that deployment is reasonable and timely. Providers have “ignored too many people in too many places struggling to access high-speed service and dealing with connectivity that falls short of what is necessary for full participation in the digital age,” she said.

There’s still time for the public to weigh in on the proposed benchmark and tentative conclusion, but don’t look for the GOP majority to modify them.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, for one, has long argued that finding deployment was not reasonable and timely was essentially making the conclusion fit a desire to regulate.

The definition of advanced telecommunications is important, because if the FCC concludes the buildout is not timely, Congress has authorized it to regulate ISPs to make it so. Will Rinehart, director of technology and innovation policy at the American Action Forum, said the definition matters a lot.

In 2015, the FCC boosted its high-speed definition from 4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream to 25/3, which decreased the number of areas with high-speed service, expanded the areas that could be the focus of new regulations and produced that 24 million figure for those without high speed access.

That statistic is problematic, Rinehart said, because it leaves out satellite broadband, which would reduce the number of unserved homes to 14 million.

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