In response to a Congressional directive to inquire whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” the FCC concluded in its Sixth Broadband Deployment Report that between 14 and 24 million Americans still lack access to broadband, and the immediate prospects for deployment to them are bleak. This report underscores the need for comprehensive reform of the Universal Service Fund, innovative approaches to unleashing new spectrum, and removal of barriers to infrastructure investment.
In an era when broadband has become essential for U.S. jobs, economic growth, global competitiveness, and democratic engagement, millions of Americans live in areas without broadband. Many of these Americans are poor or live in rural areas that will remain unserved without reform of the universal service program and other changes to U.S. broadband policy that spur investment in broadband networks by lowering the cost of deployment.
The report concludes that the goal of universal availability – deployment to all Americans – is not being met in a timely way, and proposes to address key recommendations from the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to connect all Americans as quickly as possible, including:
- Reforming the FCC’s universal service programs to support broadband through public- private partnerships;
- Unleashing spectrum for mobile broadband;
- Reducing barriers to infrastructure investment, including delays in access to poles and rights-of-way;
- Collecting better broadband data to assist policymakers and consumers.
The report also takes the long-overdue step of updating a key standard – speed – used to determine whether households are served by broadband. It upgrades the standard from 200 kilobits per second downstream, a standard set over a decade ago when web pages were largely text-based, to 4 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. This is a minimum speed generally required for using today’s video-rich broadband applications and services, while retaining sufficient capacity for basic web browsing and e-mail. The Commission’s standard will evolve over time.
Free Press says that the FCC’s statistics showing more than 14 million Americans don’t have high-speed Internet service, may actually understate the scope of the problem. The findings also reveal that less than 2 percent of U.S. broadband connections are capable of originating a high-definition quality video stream, and that less than half of all connections are capable of receiving such a stream.
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