FCC: Broadband deployment isn't happening fast enough

Between 14 million and 24 million U.S. residents don’t have access to broadband service, and deployment isn’t happening fast enough, a report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission concluded.

Broadband isn’t being rolled out to unserved areas in a timely manner, and immediate prospects for deployment to U.S. residents without service are “bleak,” the FCC said in the broadband deployment report, released Tuesday. This is the first time, since the FCC began issuing the reports in 1999, that the agency has concluded that broadband isn’t being deployed fast enough.

The report, required by Congress, is an “honest look” at the state of broadband in the U.S., Julius Genachowski, the FCC’s chairman, said in a statement.

“The report points out the great broadband successes in the United States, including as many as 290 million Americans who have gained access to broadband over the past decade,” Genachowski said. “But the statute requires more. It requires the agency to reach a conclusion about whether all—not some, not most—Americans are being served in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

That’s not happening, he added. But the FCC’s national broadband plan, released in March, lays out a plan for achieving universal deployment, Genachowski said.

The report focuses on ways to speed broadband deployment, including revamping the FCC’s Universal Service Fund to support broadband, increasing the amount of wireless spectrum available for commercial and unlicensed uses, and collecting better broadband data to assist policymakers and consumers.

The report also redefines what speeds are necessary for the FCC to consider Internet access broadband. The agency has updated the decade-old definition of 200K bps (kilobits per second) downstream to 4M bps (megabits per second).

Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the FCC, said he disagreed with the report’s conclusions. This report is a “180-degree reversal” from earlier reports, he said.

“Instead of focusing on the great strides that America has made in broadband deployment … this report emphasizes subscribership,” he said in a statement. “Collecting granular data, including subscribership numbers, is important. But, subscribership data does not equate to the ‘availability’ of broadband. In many instances the Report confuses the facts by substituting the terms ‘deployment’ and ‘subscribership’ as if they were synonymous and interchangeable.”

Broadband providers have invested an average of $27 billion in their networks between 2003 and 2009, added Meredith Baker, another Republican member of the FCC. The congressional mandate for the FCC to examine broadband deployment doesn’t require universal access by 2010, she said.

“The question is whether network providers continue to make demonstrable progress towards that goal,” she said in a statement. “All evidence suggests that answer be made in the affirmative.”

Broadband providers AT&T and Verizon Communications didn’t immediately respond to the report. Comcast had no comment.

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