Every day, millions of people across the United States log on to attend school, complete their jobs, and consult with medical professionals. While the need for high-quality broadband predates and will persist after the pandemic, COVID-19 has increased internet traffic on home broadband services. In the past several months, employers, educators, and healthcare providers have had to transition to online platforms. Meanwhile, opportunities for public wi-fi in libraries and coffee shops have decreased, leaving people who were struggling with broadband access even more disconnected and isolated from society. Still, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has not increased its benchmark speeds to account for the millions of people who persistently struggle with slow or inadequate connections.
On September 18, 2020, NCC filed comments drafted in collaboration with Common Cause and Public Knowledge urging the FCC to:
- Centralize the COVID-related necessity for home broadband access in its analysis;
- Increase the benchmark speed for broadband service to 100/100Mbps;
- Map broadband availability at a more detailed level and incorporate other data sources;
- Collaborate with local and Tribal governments as it maps broadband deployment; and
- Leverage Universal Service programs to address the digital divide.
Even if the current 25/3 Mbps speed threshold was sufficient to meet household needs a year ago, the FCC agrees that increased speeds are necessary to run several modern applications like video conferencing over the same network. At the same time, even though the agency agrees that Form 477, a form submitted by providers to show where broadband is deployed, incorrectly identifies areas as served when it may cost the consumer hundreds or thousands of dollars to connect to the provider’s network. Inaccurate data both increases costs to consumers and deprives state and local governments of funding necessary for expanding their networks.
With accurate and complete information about where broadband is, municipal leaders across the country can view a clearer picture of what connectivity looks like in their community and develop tools that expand and improve broadband access. The FCC has the opportunity to recognize and address the broadband challenges people across the United States have faced every day since March in its upcoming report and we look forward to continuing this dialogue as the proceeding progresses.