FCC’s 2021 Broadband Deployment Report – Part 1

On the last day of Ajit Pai’s term as FCC Chairman, the agency issued the 2021 Broadband Deployment Report. This is a report that is mandated to be delivered to Congress each year. One of the most extraordinary things said in the report is the following:

We find that the current speed benchmark of 25/3 Mbps remains an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service is providing advanced telecommunications capability. We conclude that fixed services with speeds of 25/3 Mbps continue to meet the statutory definition of advanced telecommunications capability; that is, such services “enable[] users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications.” 

This statement displays a willful disdain for the public and completely ignores the pandemic that the country has been suffering through since March 2020.  Nobody in the industry, other than this FCC, thinks that a 3 Mbps upload path is sufficient for families to work and tackle schoolwork from home. Any home that has a 3 Mbps upload path is not able to originate advanced telecommunications and there is no rational way that a 3 Mbps upload stream can still be considered as broadband.

It’s clear why the Pai FCC wants to stick with 25/3 Mbps as the definition of broadband. If the upload definition is increased to something even a little faster, such as 25 Mbps upload, then probably 80% to 90% of the country would no longer be considered to have broadband. Chairman Pai does not want to get the black eye for admitting that our national broadband was not up to the challenges of the pandemic. Rather than face a simple truth to which any homeowner can attest, the Pai FCC has decided to stick with the definition of broadband that was developed in 2015.

The 2020 deployment report wasn’t issued until June of 2020, so this latest 2021 report is extraordinarily early by FCC standards. The timing is not accidental, and the report was issued on Chairman Pai’s last day in office. He rushed this report out the door so that his own FCC could pronounce that the state of broadband is good and getting better – instead of recognizing the reality that millions of homes who thought they had good broadband suddenly found out during the pandemic that they don’t.

Chairman Pai had an opportunity with this report to be bold and do the right thing. A recognition by Chairman Pai that upload speeds are inadequate would have set off a furious debate after he left. Cable companies won’t be prodded into improving upload speeds unless pushed to do so by the FCC. The entire purpose of the report to Congress is to let legislators know the state of US broadband. Every member of Congress has already heard loudly from their constituents that broadband is not good enough. It’s insulting to Congress to publish this whitewashed report, and it’s a huge disservice to homes still suffering through the pandemic to be told that the state of broadband is great.

It’s clear that the cable companies are quietly hoping that the upload issue blows away after the end of the pandemic. However, it’s looking more and more like millions of people will continue to work from home even after the pandemic ends – and the FCC’s definition of broadband needs to recognize the real world.

I don’t know if an incoming FCC can issue a revised report – but they should strongly consider doing so. As a country, we can’t properly tackle broadband issues if we’re not even willing to admit where problems exist. We now know that upload speeds on most technologies, including cable company networks, has been inadequate for a lot of home over this last year.

Of course, the upload speed issue is not the only problem with this latest report – stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “FCC’s 2021 Broadband Deployment Report – Part 1

  1. DOCSIS technology is the culprit here! And Pai has done exactly what we Indians are best at these days in India, cover up the problem rather than highlighting and sorting it out. Plus, he probably also earned points from cable companies.

  2. Hi Doug, Chuck told me about your blog here. Good info. My questions are: What is our basis for realistic comparison? Do educators find that systems going at these speeds are effective enough for at home education? Do European or Asian countries have faster speeds that they consider as basic?
    Since we now have a Dem. as FCC head, might your suggestion for a new report in 2021 be considered realistic? Best, Tom

    • Interestingly there is no standard in Europe. While some regulation is set at the EU level, each country also has its own version of the FCC that establishes goals.

      It would be extraordinary and interesting if the new FCC pulled back this report. They certainly would have the authority to do so. I fully expect the new FCC to tackle the issue of speed and the definition of broadband. But I have a blog later this week that describes how speed is a hard thing to define.

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