NCTA: FCC is Lowballing Broadband Deployment

The FCC is failing to, in a reasonable and timely manner, account for the extent to which unserved areas are getting broadband.

That was a key takeaway from NCTA-The Internet & Television Association's comments to the FCC this week on whether advanced telecommunications is being provided in a reasonable and timely manner, as Congress has directed it to insure. If the FCC concludes that advanced telecom is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion allows the FCC to regulate to make that happen.

NCTA says that undercounting is because of the "significant lag time" between data collection and release, and the "resulting understatement" of deployment levels.

For example, the FCC recently released data from June 2017, it points out, while providers have already reported data as of June 2018.

Then there is the issue of areas the FCC still views as unserved but where it has already allotted federal funding. "While these areas may be unserved today, there is a plan in place for bringing service to these areas and a provider that has made a commitment to deploy the necessary facilities," NCTA told the commission, citing the billions of dollars in Connect America Funding with specific build-out requirements.

"Distinguishing between areas where deployment commitments exist and unserved areas that still need to be addressed will be critical for the Commission to achieve the goal of bringing broadband to all Americans," NCTA said.

The trade group also said the FCC should retain its 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream benchmark for advanced telecommunications, but not rule out lower speeds, which can provide "important" capabilities including doing homework, applying for jobs and streaming video.

Obviously, the lower the acceptable speed, the higher the deployment figure. "While the Commission relied in part on the needs of larger households in its original selection of the 25/3 benchmark, lower speed services currently are sufficient for millions of consumers and may be more than sufficient for the 61 percent of households with only one or two residents," it argues.

For example, the FCC is providing billions in Connect America Fund Phase II subsidies at a 10/1 Mbps threshhold.

NCTA also put in a plug for including mobile broadband availability in making the determination, as NCTA says it should, that broadband deployment is reasonable and timely, something the FCC has not yet been prepared to do.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.