On May 29, 2019, the Commission released the 2019 Broadband Deployment Report (“Report”) in which it concludes, for the second consecutive year, that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion pursuant to the Section 706 analysis.

The Report recognizes that “the digital divide has narrowed substantially and more Americans than ever before have access to high-speed broadband.” Specifically, the Report finds that the number of Americans without access to high-speed broadband – 25 Mbps/3 Mbps – decreased more than 18% from 26.1 million Americans in 2016 to 21.3 million Americans at the end of 2017. It highlights the Commission’s efforts to close the digital divide since the release of the 2018 report, including wireline and wireless infrastructure policy reform, high-cost and rural health care reforms, expanding access to spectrum for wireless and satellite broadband services, and detailing efforts by the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (“BDAC”) to accelerate broadband deployment. Consistent with the 2018 report, the 2019 Report declines to evaluate non-performance benchmarks and metrics.

To determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans, the Report examines the availability of fixed and mobile services over a 5-year period (2013-2017) using the same four factors that were utilized in the 2018 report: it measures (1) those with access to fixed services; (2) those with access to mobile LTE services; (3) those with access to both fixed and mobile LTE services; and (4) those with access to at least one of either fixed or mobile LTE services. While this Report evaluates the current state of deployment to all Americans pursuant to the Section 706 inquiry, it does not determine whether every American is currently served.

The Report was approved on a party-line vote. Both democratic Commissioners, Rosenworcel and Starks, opposed the Report, arguing that the FCC has not done enough to ensure widespread access to high-speed Internet, and called on the FCC to revise its methodology to ensure more accurate findings, including rejecting flawed data, revising the FCC’s data collection policies and increasing benchmarks.

The Report makes the following notable findings:

Analysis

  • The Commission continues to consider both fixed and mobile services to be capable of satisfying the Section 706 definition of “advanced telecommunications capability.”
    • Consistent with the 2018 report, the Commission finds that despite the increasing ubiquity and capabilities of mobile service, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that mobile and fixed broadband services are full substitutes in all cases, however it declines to specify such use cases. The Report continues to examine the deployment of fixed and mobile services, both individually and together.
  • The Commission concludes that the current benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps remains an appropriate measure for whether a fixed service provides advanced telecommunications capability, noting that this benchmark reflects current usage patterns and demand.
    • The Commission declines to adopt a multiple speed tier system to determine the speed benchmark, yet notes that it “also evaluate[s] progress using a broad scope of speed tier data and different speed tiers across technologies.”
  • The Commission continues to use various data points to assess Americans’ access to mobile advanced telecommunications capability and uses Form 477 4G LTE (minimum of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps) as the starting point for what is “advanced” in a mobile context. That being said, the Commission clarifies that it is “not asserting . . . that 5 Mbps/1 Mbps is a mobile advanced telecommunications capability benchmark.”
    • The Commission supplements its Form 477 results with Ookla’s actual speed test data at a median speed of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps or higher to account for limitations of Form 477 mobile data.
  • The Commission declines to update its benchmarks, but recognizes that Form 477 subscription data may be used to determine the fixed speed benchmark in the future, but it is unclear how such data could apply to mobile services.

Findings

  • As of December 2017, 93.5% of the overall population had access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, up from 91.9% in 2016. However, there is a significant gap in rural and Tribal America: 26% of Americans in rural areas and 32% of Americans in Tribal lands lack coverage from fixed terrestrial 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband, compared to 1.7% of Americans in urban areas.
  • As of December 2017, over 99% of the overall population had access to mobile LTE with a minimum advertised speed of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps, according to Form 477 data.
  • Overall, as of December 2017, approximately 304 million people, 93.4%, were covered by both 25 Mbps/3 Mbps fixed terrestrial service and mobile LTE with minimum advertised speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps. In rural areas, 73.2% of people were covered by both services compared to 98.3% in urban areas, up from 67.1% and 97.7% respectively.
  • As of December 2017, approximately 260 million people lived in areas covered by both 25 Mbps/3 Mbps fixed terrestrial services and mobile LTE with median speeds of 10 Mbps/ 3 Mbps, an increase from 10.1 million since 2016.
  • Approximately 98% of school districts, 44.7 million students, have met the Commission’s short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students, up from 39.2 million in 2017. 28% of school districts met long-term connectivity goals of 1 Gbps per 1,000 users, up from 22% in 2017.

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