The Federal Communications Commission is making its latest determination of whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans quickly enough, and there are a few notable tidbits from what we know about the report so far.
Pai’s FCC has determined that mobile broadband is not a full substitute for home Internet services. The FCC says this even after previously suggesting that mobile Internet might be all Americans need. The FCC also won’t be lowering the speed standard that it uses to judge whether broadband deployment is happening quickly enough.
Separately, Pai’s draft report claims that both fixed and mobile Internet deployment worsened because of the FCC’s Title II net neutrality rules. Last month’s repeal of the net neutrality rules and other regulatory changes are turning things around, the fact sheet says.
“The draft report indicates that the pace of both fixed and mobile broadband deployment declined dramatically in the two years following the prior Commission’s Title II [net neutrality] Order,” Pai said.
That claim is at odds with how ISPs portray their own progress. The cable industry’s top lobbying group recently boasted about dramatic increases in home Internet speeds that occurred while net neutrality rules were in place. The mobile industry lobby says the same.
We may need to wait for the full report to find out why the FCC thinks deployment stalled, and it’s not clear exactly when the report will come out. The commission still needs to vote on it. You can read previous Broadband Progress Reports here.
No data to back up deployment claims
While Pai claims that net neutrality hindered deployment, he says that “we are now headed in the right direction.” The fact sheet and Pai’s statement don’t say what actual progress has been made, however. They offer no data to back up a claim that deployment is getting better or that deployment got worse before the net neutrality repeal.
Besides that, the net neutrality rules are technically still on the books. The repeal can’t take effect until 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which hasn’t happened.
The closest today’s fact sheet comes to providing data on deployment is a sentence that says, “Too many Americans remain unable to access high-speed broadband, and we have much work to do if we are going to extend digital opportunity to them.”
By contrast, the fact sheet for the previous broadband progress report—released by then-Chairman Tom Wheeler—included numerous data points about what percentage of Americans lacked access to broadband in urban, rural, and Tribal areas.
The report apparently does conclude that 24 million Americans lack high-speed broadband access. But we only found that out from statements issued by Democratic commissioners.
“I’m glad that the FCC has backed away from its crazy idea to lower the broadband speed standard,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said today. “But it defies logic to conclude that broadband is being reasonably and timely deployed across this country when over 24 million Americans still lack access. This is especially tragic when, according to the Senate Joint Economic Committee, there are 12 million kids that are caught in the Homework Gap because they lack Internet service at home. We should be reaching for faster speeds and universal access.”
“How can this agency now claim that broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion? Only by repeating the [FCC] majority’s tired and debunked claims that broadband investment and innovation screeched to a halt in 2015 [when net neutrality rules were imposed],” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said. “While my initial review of Chairman Pai’s draft report raises serious concerns, I acknowledge that it addresses one of my concerns by now correctly concluding that mobile and fixed connectivity are not substitutes. I look forward to carefully reviewing the findings presented in the draft report.”
What the findings mean
To understand what the FCC’s findings mean for policymaking, you need to know a little about the requirements Congress has imposed on the commission since 1996.
Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to encourage broadband deployment to all Americans and to make a regular determination of “whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough, it has to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”
The near-annual report is what we’re talking about today, and there are a few things the FCC does to meet its mandate as part of each report. One task is determining what speed standard to use when judging whether broadband is being deployed quickly enough; another is to determine what kinds of technologies actually provide advanced Internet service.
Deciding what standards to use helps determine what answer the FCC gives to the main question of whether broadband is being deployed to everyone in a reasonable and timely manner.
Under President Obama, the Democratic-majority FCC said that all Americans should have access to home broadband services (such as cable or fiber) offering at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream. The Obama FCC also said that everyone should have access to both fixed Internet and mobile Internet service, not just one or the other. The Democratic majority found that broadband wasn’t being deployed to everyone quickly enough.