BBWN Bites: US senators call for 100Mbit/s speed standard
Also in this roundup: CED releases broadband policy proposals; 2020 saw record growth for service providers; report shows 21% of US adults lack Internet; France sees "unparalleled" FTTH progress, says Arcep.
- Four US senators have sent a letter to the Biden administration calling for updated federal standards for high-speed Internet. While the FCC still defines high-speed Internet as 25 Mbit/s download and 3 Mbit/s upload – a standard that was set in 2015 and unchanged under former FCC head Ajit Pai – the legislators are now calling for a significant update to 100 Mbit/s download and upload. The letter was written by Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio); and it was addressed to top Biden officials, including Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Acting Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Jessica Rosenworcel, and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese. "We must learn from our experience during the pandemic and raise federal standards for new broadband service to require low latency, high reliability, and speeds that meet our expected 21st century needs," states the letter. "We should also insist that new networks supported with federal funds meet this higher standard, with limited exceptions for truly hard-to-reach locations. For years, we have seen billions in taxpayer dollars subsidize network deployments that are outdated as soon as they are complete, lacking in capacity and failing to replace inadequate broadband infrastructure."
- The need for updated speed standards was also reflected this week in policy priorities issued by the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board (CED), a business-led public policy center representing 30-plus industries. In a new report, "Broadband Access – Connecting America," CED put forth several policy recommendations for ending the digital divide in the US, including updating speed standards to 100/100 Mbit/s, similarly arguing that this will "avoid directing federal investment to networks that are either substandard or will soon be outdated." CED also calls for improving market competition for high-speed Internet services, leveraging public assets for private network expansion, reforming the FCC's Lifeline program, and federally funding a "one-time investment to build out upgradable high-speed internet networks to jump-start coverage for areas currently without broadband access."
- Underscoring the importance of policies that expedite the delivery of high-speed Internet to underserved communities, a report from Communicating for America (a non-profit organization advocating for rural communities) revealed that 21% of Americans 18 to 65 don't have access to high-speed broadband Internet, and that 73% of those who said they don't have access reported having their lives "meaningfully impacted" in the last year as a result. The survey – conducted for CA by YouGov – quoted one respondent as saying: "Our bandwidth has been severely shortened due to overuse of the service. It used to be that I knew if I just HAD to do something, I could log in during the week when people were at work/school. Now there is no time that I know I can count on the internet being relatively 'faster.' Plus, since we're rural, we have no choice in the service we use. It's excessively slow and expensive."
- While the past year was terrible for human beings who haven't been able to participate in life due to a lack of Internet access, it was great for top cable and wireline providers' growth numbers... so, cheer up. New data from Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG) found that the largest service providers in the US gained about 4.86 million net additional broadband Internet subscribers in 2020, compared to 2.55 million in 2019. Topping the charts in cable were Comcast, with 1.97 million net adds in 2020, and Charter, which saw 2.2 million net additions in 2020, more than any company since 2006. Top wireline providers included AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink/Lumen.
- French regulator Arcep reports in its latest scoreboard that the country is seeing record progress on the fiber front, with more than 5.8 million fiber lines deployed over the course of 2020, and FTTH subscriptions growing by 3.3 million to surpass 10 million. (Poor old copper lost 2.5 million connections.) All this fiber growth has allowed for "superfast" broadband expansion, with 14.7 million subs, or close to half of all Internet access lines in France, achieving at least 30 Mbit/s speeds. Arcep also notes that by the end of December, 24.2 million premises were eligible to subscribe to a fiber-broadband service, a 31% increase year-on-year. Still, the regulator notes that all growth is not equal: "The accelerated pace observed nationwide is not, however, found systematically in very high-density areas where the insufficient rate of progress of the past several quarters continues," it said.
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor, Light Reading
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
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