FCC Finds 14 to 24 Million Americans Lack Access to Broadband

In response to a Congressional directive to inquire whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” the Federal Communications Commission (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.

The report concludes that the goal of universal availability—deployment to all Americans—is not being met fast enough, and it proposes to address key recommendations from the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to connect all Americans as quickly as possible. The plan includes reforming the FCC’s universal service programs to support broadband through public-private partnerships, unleashing the spectrum for mobile broadband, reducing barriers to infrastructure investment, including delays in access to poles and rights-of-way, and collecting better broadband data to assist policy-makers and consumers.

The report also updates a key standard—bandwidth—used to determine whether households are served by broadband. It upgrades the standard from 200 kilobits per second downstream, set more than 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 FCC’s standard will evolve over time.

The “706 Report,” as it is commonly known, for the first time includes a comprehensive list of unserved areas, compiled from data not previously available to the FCC. Future reports will benefit from continued improvements in broadband data.

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