By Jof Enriquez, Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reaffirmed that broadband deployment is the top priority to bridge the digital divide in America. The agency says its recent efforts to monitor and accelerate progress in both fixed and mobile services are consistent with its mandate under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, but adds it still has much work to do.
A fact sheet of a draft 2018 Broadband Deployment Report shared by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai with colleagues outlined the commission’s efforts in the past year to encourage the deployment of broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion, as required by section 706 of the Act.
"The Commission has taken concrete actions to reduce regulatory barriers to the deployment of wireline and wireless infrastructure, constituted a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to assist in these efforts, reformed the legacy high-cost universal service program to ensure accountability and introduce opportunities for new entrants through reverse auctions, modernized our rules for business data services to facilitate facilities-based competition, authorized new uses of wireless spectrum both terrestrially and in space, and voted to eliminate the heavy-handed regulations contained in the Title II Order, returning to the successful lighttouch regulatory framework for broadband Internet access," the report stated.
A key decision this year is to uphold the home broadband minimum standard of 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps for uploads. FCC in 2015 had raised the minimum download and upload speeds needed to qualify as broadband from 4Mbps and 1Mbps, respectively. Retaining the current 25-3 standard still is an "appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service provides advanced telecommunications capability," according to the agency.
In addition, FCC also established a new standard for mobile broadband as a connection of at least 10 Mbps.
If the commission had changed (lowered) the threshold for what qualifies as broadband – which it considered doing last year – then underserved and rural areas would have been considered adequately served, and would receive less funding for upcoming broadband services, whether fixed or mobile.
Likewise crucial is FCC's clarification that mobile broadband is not considered a full substitute for fixed services based on varying "consumer preferences and demands." Therefore, progress in both must be tracked separately.
"The draft report takes a holistic view of the market and examines whether we are both making progress in deploying fixed broadband service and making progress in deploying mobile broadband service," stated FCC.
Based on its 25-3 Mbps home broadband and 10 Mbps mobile broadband definitions, and rejecting mobile as a substitute for fixed connections, FCC found that 39 percent of rural Americans still lacked access to adequate speeds promised by "advanced telecommunications," according to Wired.
"The draft report indicates the pace of both fixed and mobile broadband deployment declined dramatically in the two years following the prior Commission’s Title II Order," stated Pai. "However, the draft report also discussed how, over the course of the past year, the current Commission has taken steps to reduce barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition in the broadband marketplace."
"But while we are now headed in the right direction, our work has just begun," added Pai, according to Inside Towers. "Far too many Americans still lack access to high-speed internet, and that’s why the FCC’s top priority under my leadership remains bridging the digital divide and bringing digital opportunity to all Americans."