Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is aiming to increase the agency’s broadband speed standard from 25Mbps to 100Mbps on the download side and from 3Mbps to 20Mbps for uploads.
Rosenworcel’s “Notice of Inquiry proposes to increase the national broadband standard to 100 megabits per second for download and 20 megabits per second for upload and discusses a range of evidence supporting this standard, including the requirements for new networks funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” the FCC said in an announcement today. Rosenworcel is also proposing “a separate national goal of 1Gbps/500Mbps for the future.”
The 25/3Mbps metric was adopted in January 2015 under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler and was never updated by former Chairman Ajit Pai during his four-year term leading the commission. Pai decided in January 2021 that 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds were still fast enough for home Internet users.
“The needs of Internet users long ago surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 speed metric, especially during a global health pandemic that moved so much of life online,” Rosenworcel said in the announcement. “The 25/3 metric isn’t just behind the times, it’s a harmful one because it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left behind and left offline.”
FCC deadlock prevents aggressive action
Rosenworcel circulated the proposed Notice of Inquiry to fellow commissioners. The proposal requires a vote, and the commission is still deadlocked with two Democrats and two Republicans as the Senate continues its inaction on Biden nominee Gigi Sohn.
Under US law, the FCC is required to determine annually whether “advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion” and to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment” and promote competition if current deployment is not “reasonable and timely.” Maintaining the 25/3Mbps standard for home Internet service made it easier for Pai to give the telecom industry and FCC passing grades in the annual reports.
Rosenworcel also wants to expand the commission’s deployment analysis to consider prices and adoption, among other things. “Looking beyond speed, Chairwoman Rosenworcel also proposes that the Commission consider affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access as part of its determination as to whether broadband is being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion,” the FCC announcement said.
If the FCC raises the speed standard and evaluates affordability, it’s more likely to find that broadband isn’t being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion. But Rosenworcel will need a 3-2 Democratic majority to reverse Pai’s broadband-industry deregulation and reclaim authority to treat Internet service providers as common carriers, so the practical outcomes of the speed-standard change could be limited unless a third Democrat is confirmed to the FCC.