On Wednesday, October 23, 2019, the Commission released the Fifteenth Broadband Deployment Report Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) initiating the annual review of broadband deployment and investment and seeking comment on the current state of deployment of advanced telecommunications capabilities (“ATC”) (GN Docket No. 19-258). The Commission’s proposals are generally consistent with its previous approach used to prepare the 2019 Broadband Deployment Report.

Comments on the NOI are due November 22, 2019

Reply comments are due December 9, 2019

Evaluating Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion

  • Progress in Deployment – The Commission seeks comment on continuing to use a progress-based approach for the next Report, including maintaining its evaluation of fixed and mobile services using its four categories ((1) fixed services available; (2) mobile LTE services available; (3) fixed terrestrial and mobile LTE services available; and (4) at least one of either fixed terrestrial or mobile LTE services available). The NOI proposes to continue to rely on the same five-year time period (2014-2018), as well as the same deployment figures for speed metrics.
    • The NOI seeks comment on any marketplace or technological conditions that would justify alternative approaches, whether it should treat mobile broadband as a substitute for fixed wireline broadband, and if the deployment of 5G wireless services should affect the Commission’s analysis.
  • Defining Advanced Telecommunications Capability – The Commission seeks comment on maintaining current benchmarks for mobile services (5 Mbps/1 Mbps with supplemented Ookla’s speed test data at a median speed of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps or higher at a county level) and fixed services (25 Mbps/3 Mbps).
  • Schools and Classrooms – The NOI proposes to continue to use the short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff, and the long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff.
  • Tribal Lands – The Commission seeks comment on whether deployment on Tribal lands still lags and any additional considerations that could be preventing deployment.

Data Sources and Analysis

  • Deployment Data for Mobile Services – The 2019 Report presented mobile data in two sets of estimates based on FCC Form 477 mobile LTE deployment data and Ookla consumer speed data. The NOI proposes to continue to use these methodologies and seeks comment on whether any other sources for these data exist.
  • Deployment Data for Fixed Services – The Commission proposes to continue to use Form 477 data to evaluate fixed services deployment, and seeks comment on the use of any alternative datasets or supplements, as well as incorporating deployment estimates for satellite broadband.
  • Calculation of Americans with Advanced Telecommunications Services Available – The NOI proposes to continue summing the population of all of the census blocks with at least one provider of services, (regardless of type – fixed, mobile, etc.) to determine ATC availability.
  • Deployment Data for Schools – The NOI seeks comment on using the next iterations of publicly available data from the 2018 State of the States Report and 2018-2019 Annual Infrastructure Survey Report.
  • Deployment Data for Tribal Lands – The NOI plans to use the 2019 Report data, and seeks comment on whether it should summarize the deployment data on a more disaggregated basis or whether there are more informative categories to present this data.
  • Disaster Affected Areas – The Commission remains uncertain of broadband deployment in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands due to the 2017 hurricane season. The NOI seeks comment on whether it should continue to report US Territory deployment separate from the rest of the US, as it did in the 2019 Report, or if it should include the territories in the broader national deployment figures.

Commission Efforts to Close the Digital Divide – The Commission’s next deployment report will examine its actions to spur broadband deployment and close the digital divide since the 2019 Report. The NOI seeks comment on these efforts and any additional efforts it should undertake, as well as the effectiveness of USF funding in driving deployment.

Chairman Pai and Commissioners O’Rielly, Rosenworcel, and Starks each released statements in connection with this NOI, with Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks dissenting with the Commission’s conclusion that “ATC is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

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