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Industry Sees Opportunities in Proposed Broadband Standard Increase

Industry officials welcomed FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s announcement that the commission is considering a notice of inquiry proposing to update the national broadband standard from 25/3 Mbps to 100/20 Mbps (see 2207150065). Some said the proposed increase may show an even greater number of unserved or underserved households throughout the country.

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Having a near-term goal of 100/20 Mbps while also considering a long-term objective “makes a lot of sense” because the need for greater speeds continues to increase every three to five years, said NTCA Executive Vice President Mike Romano. “The devil will be in the details” of the NOI and ultimate report that is released, Romano said, but it’s “a good idea to tee up a conversation about how we aim higher.”

Higher speeds create greater competition,” said Incompas CEO Chip Pickering. The “good news” is that a higher national broadband standard “stops the practice of subsidizing the old networks of the past” like copper and coaxial networks, Pickering said. Incompas backed increasing the standard to 1 Gbps, he said, and “I was pleased the chairwoman discussed a preference for moving toward 1 Gbps.”

Another “positive aspect” of raising the standard to 100/20 Mbps is that it matches the trend set by Congress in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Pickering said. The law “made a clear preference for 1 Gbps-capable networks,” he said, and higher speeds “will move the country to future-proof infrastructure.” Ensuring the “digital networks of the future” are sustainable will depend on “the highest speed, highest capacity, symmetrical speeds,” Pickering said. That needs to be built “as fast as possible.”

The “demand for speed grows every year” and the proposed standard is “a huge improvement,” said CCG Consulting President Doug Dawson. The question becomes what that number is used because recent federal broadband grants “were already set at higher speeds,” Dawson said, noting some states are awarding grants for gigabit-level services. The FCC “has a vested interest” in not setting the broadband standard too high, Dawson said, because doing so “would be declaring all sorts of households who might think their broadband’s adequate all of a sudden are declared as not being adequate.”

The “reality of what constitutes what we should think of as the minimum standard has changed dramatically” in recent years, said New Street’s Blair Levin. The current definition “does not reflect the reality of broadband usage today,” Levin said, but the proposed standard is unlikely to “affect the way money flows.”

The FCC is “running behind Congress” in setting a higher definition of broadband, Levin said, and the practical impact may not be significant. Levin said companies are more likely to focus on the standards being set by states because federal broadband funding was allocated to the states instead of the FCC: “If they’re relying on what Congress appropriated, what’s relevant is what Congress said.”

Some industry officials noted the FCC will need to consider how increasing the national broadband standard may affect the ability to deploy certain technologies. It’s “high time the FCC update the benchmark,” said one industry expert, but the FCC “needs to balance the fact that our country is comprised of different topographies which make deploying a certain technology not economically or technically feasible.” The FCC didn’t comment.