FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today circulated to his fellow Commissioners the draft 2019 report on broadband deployment, or advanced telecommunications capability, which concludes that “[t]he digital divide between Americans with and without access to modern broadband networks has narrowed substantially,” according to an agency press release.
The report, commonly known as the section 706 report after the section of the Communications Act that first mandated it, “concludes that advanced telecommunications services — broadband — is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis,” the press release says. Section 706 of the Act directs the FCC to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market” if it determines the advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.
“For the past two years, closing the digital divide has been the FCC’s top priority,” Chairman Pai said. “We’ve been tackling this problem by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Connect America Fund.”
He added, “This report shows that our approach is working. But we won’t rest until all Americans can have access to broadband and the 21st century opportunities it provides to communities everywhere.”
The FCC has set the fixed broadband benchmark for the purposes of section 706 at 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The draft report says that the number of Americans lacking Internet access that meets the benchmark dropped from 26.1 million at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017. “Moreover, the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections, approximately 5.6 million, live in rural America, where broadband deployment has traditionally lagged,” the FCC said in the press release.
There have also been gains at higher speeds, with the number of Americans with fixed access at 100 Mbps/10 Mbps increasing from 244.3 million to 290.9 million during that same period. “The number of Americans with access to 250 Mbps/50 Mbps fixed broadband grew by over 45%, to 205.2 million, and the number of rural Americans with access to such service more than doubled,” the FCC said.
“The private sector has responded to FCC reforms by deploying fiber to 5.9 million new homes in 2018, the largest number ever recorded. And overall, capital expenditures by broadband providers increased in 2017, reversing declines that occurred in both 2015 and 2016,” it added.
The FCC is expected to vote on the report to Congress “in the coming weeks,” the FCC said.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a tweet, “The @FCC just shared with me a draft report on the state of broadband. It concludes that across the country broadband deployment is reasonable and timely. I beg to differ. Millions of households — in rural and urban communities — have no access to high-speed service. That’s a fact.”
Jonathan Spalter, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Telecom Association, said, “Bottom line: more Americans have broadband connectivity today than a year ago. This is another proof point that the multiyear commitment of broadband innovators to infrastructure investment is expanding both the availability and speed of wired broadband service and reaching consumers in the hardest to wire parts of the country. This is a public policy goal USTelecom shares with the Commission and its Chair. The FCC’s drive to modernize regulations and remove outdated barriers has helped usher in a pro-consumer environment while stoking the engine for more innovation and investment.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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