During their January 29th meeting, the FCC commissioners voted to change the benchmark speed requirements defining broadband Internet services. As a result of the vote, broadband speed is now at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, substantially increased from the benchmarks set in 2010 at 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up. Under the new benchmark, 17% of the US homes do not have access to broadband Internet – and 53% of homes in rural areas of the country cannot currently receive the new speeds.
These changes shouldn’t have a direct effect on the E-rate program, or the application filing window—currently in full swing. However, the new definition of broadband access is another step toward supporting a primary goal that the FCC has been pursuing: expanding broadband availability to underserved areas. This overarching goal drove the FCC to increase support for fiber build-out and deployment as a significant part of the 2nd E-rate Modernization Order.
In the first E-rate Modernization Order, the FCC refined the focus of the E-rate program to support broadband connectivity and capacity, and set broadband connectivity targets for schools and libraries participating in the program (paras. 34-38). These targets are intended to be reexamined regularly, and the input from Item 8 in Block 4 of the new Form 471 should provide the FCC with more information on how close schools and libraries are to meeting these connection speeds.
The FCC has indicated that the modernization of the E-rate program is not yet finished, and further steps toward modernization need to be identified (para. 8 of the 2nd E-rate Modernization Order). It’s clear that the FCC is looking at connectivity speeds as a measure of broadband deployment, not just for E‚Äërate applicants, but nationwide. It will be interesting to see how this approach intersects with E-rate modernization in the coming years, as the FCC gets a clearer picture of the connectivity data being gathered from applicants.