Sens. Ask USDA to Boost Broadband Speed Benchmark

A bipartisan group of senators has asked the USDA to update the broadband speed definitions of its Community Connect grant program, which, like the FCC's Universal Service Program, provides subsidies to build out broadband in areas where there isn't a business case, in this case focused on rural areas.

They want the definition for high speed to be upped to 10 Mbps.

The USDA this month upped the speeds for the Broadband Access Loan Program to 10 mbps, but Community Connect was only increased to 4 Mbps. The senators signaled that did not cut it.

“Federal policymakers must ensure that taxpayer-supported infrastructure is sufficiently robust to handle demand. It is not only a matter of fairness that rural Americans can fully utilize broadband-enabled resources," they wrote, "but also a matter of ensuring that taxpayers are receiving the full economic development return on their investments.”

Both USDA and the Department of Commerce administer broadband funding programs with funds earmarked by Congress, while the FCC administers a low-income and no-business case advanced telecommunications subsidy through a USF fee on monthly phone bills.

The FCC has said that to qualify as providing high-speed broadband, its Lifeline USF subsidy, which is being migrated to broadband, must be at least 10 mbps, though it has said 25 Mbps should be the new table stakes. four Mbps was the FCC's previous benchmark for high-speed downloads.

"In order to keep USDA’s broadband infrastructure programs in step with current needs, Congress has delegated to USDA the ability to update speed definitions within both the Broadband Loan Program and the Community Connect Program," they said in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "We therefore respectfully request that for future funding years you increase the Community Connect Program’s Minimum Broadband Service definition. Such a change will enable communities that are currently ineligible, but which nonetheless lack adequate service, to engage with RUS and providers to improve their connectivity."

Incumbent MVPDs are always concerned that the government will define adequate to result in overbuilds of existing service.

Signing on to the letter Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

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.