The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a significant initiative to assess the state of broadband across the United States and update the national broadband standards. This inquiry, mandated by section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, will address the evolving needs of internet users and aim to bridge the digital divide.
FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel emphasized the urgency of this initiative, stating that the existing 25/3 Mbps standard is outdated and no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the American people. The pandemic has exposed the limitations of the current broadband standard, particularly for low-income neighborhoods and rural communities, where many individuals are left offline and underserved.
The key focus of this inquiry is to reevaluate the universal service goals outlined in section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. These goals include universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband throughout the United States. The FCC aims to set new, ambitious benchmarks to ensure that broadband is more accessible and capable of meeting modern demands.
In response to the increasing reliance on broadband and the directives outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides substantial federal investments in broadband deployment, the FCC will take a fresh look at the standards used to evaluate broadband deployment and availability. The Commission will also scrutinize the quality of available data and the framework used for section 706 findings.
As part of this initiative, the FCC is proposing to raise the national fixed broadband speed benchmark to 100 megabits per second for downloads and 20 megabits per second for uploads, a substantial increase from the existing 25/3 Mbps standard established in 2015. The Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeks public input on the potential establishment of a separate national goal of 1 gigabit per second for downloads and 500 megabits per second for uploads, setting an ambitious long-term target for broadband speeds.
This inquiry will also mark the first use of the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC) data. The Broadband DATA Act, passed by Congress in March 2020, mandated the FCC to collect precise, location-specific data related to the availability and quality of fixed and mobile broadband internet access services. This enhanced data collection process will provide more accurate information for creating broadband coverage maps and inform decisions on broadband availability.
The FCC’s decision to embark on this inquiry reflects a commitment to addressing the digital divide, ensuring equitable access to high-speed internet, and aligning broadband standards with the evolving needs of American consumers. As the nation becomes increasingly reliant on digital connectivity, the FCC’s effort to set ambitious goals and update standards is seen as a crucial step toward a more connected and accessible future for all. Public input and feedback will play a significant role in shaping the outcomes of this inquiry, as the FCC seeks to create a more inclusive and digitally connected America.