FCC ups broadband benchmark speeds, says rural areas still underserved

Previous goals were 25Mbps download and a paltry 3Mbps for upload ... and some places don't even have that

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is finally updating its standard for broadband speeds to 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload, after talking about the issue for years.

The telecoms regulator has raised its benchmark for high-speed fixed broadband as part of an annual assessment of the progress in advanced deployment across the country.

The Commission's report raises the bar for fixed broadband to download speeds of 100Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps, up from the previous benchmark of 25Mbps download and just 3Mbps upload, in order to accurately reflect the broadband needs of American households, the FCC says.

The report also sets a long term goal to deliver 1Gbps download and 500Mbps upload speeds for broadband, giving telecoms operators a fresh target to aim for, although no timeframe has yet been specified.

While this hike in expectations of what telcos should deliver will be welcomed by consumers, the existing benchmark was set way back in 2015, and the FCC has considered updating it for some time.

As The Register wrote back in July 2022, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel declared the existing baseline did not match up to the requirements of households, who needed faster connections for remote work and streaming. The Commission was proposing then what it has now adopted.

That high speed broadband capability, however, is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion, says the FCC. This conclusion is drawn from figures on the total number of Americans, especially those in rural areas and living on Native American tribal land that do not have access - those gaps in deployment are not being closed rapidly enough.

The broadband availability figures were plucked from the FCC's own Broadband Data Collection program for the first time, rather than the so-called Form 477 data reported by the network operators themselves. The FCC had previously been criticized for the inaccuracy of this data.

The latest stats, which date from December 2022, shows that fixed broadband (excluding satellite delivery) has yet to reach approximately 24 million Americans, which covers almost 28 percent of those in rural areas, and more than 23 percent of those living on tribal land.

In terms of cellular networks, the FCC said that 5G has not yet been deployed at s benchmark speed of 35Mbps download and 3Mbps upload to almost 36 percent of Americans in rural areas, and more than 20 percent of those on tribal land.

The FCC says that according to its estimates, 45 million Americans lack access to either fixed broadband or cellular services that meet the respective benchmarks.

However, the report finds that 74 percent of US school districts can access 1Gbps per 1,000 students and staff for schools and classrooms, which is a new short-term benchmark for those settings. ®

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