FCC Releases Adopted 2024 Section 706 Report

On March 18, 2024, the FCC released the 2024 Section 706 Report (“Report”) to fulfill the Commission’s statutory responsibility under section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to annually conduct an inquiry concerning the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans and to determine whether such capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.  The Report was adopted at the March Open Meeting.

Specifically, the Report addresses the following:

  1. Section 706 Universal Service Goals:  The FCC adopts universal deployment, affordability, adoption, availability, and equitable access to broadband throughout the United States as its goals for conducting this section 706 inquiry, which are consistent with those adopted in the Future of USF Report.
  2. Physical Deployment:  As it has in the past, the FCC continues to find that fixed and mobile broadband services are not full substitutes and that both services are necessary to ensure all Americans have access to advanced telecommunications capability.
    • Fixed Broadband Service – The FCC increases the fixed broadband speed benchmark from 25/3 Mbps to 100/20 Mbps based on the current state of broadband needs, usage, and deployment.  It also adopts a long-term goal of 1,000 Mbps, or 1 gigabit per second (“Gbps”), download speed paired with 500 Mbps upload speed.  The FCC found that consumer use trends and the speed benchmark requirements set by many federal and state broadband programs, including NTIA’s BEAD program, which require broadband providers to deploy at or above 100/20 Mbps, were compelling evidence that the broadband speed benchmark should be increased.  The FCC used Broadband Data Collection (“BDC”) data for the first time to analyze broadband service availability as of December 2022 and relied on FCC Form 477 data for December 2018 through December 2021 for historical trend purposes.   For the first time since 2018, the FCC concludes that there was a decrease in the availability of fixed broadband across all areas of the United States, though the FCC does caution that, since the FCC is relying on BDC data and not Form 477 data for the first time, “the results for 2022 should not be directly compared with prior years.”  Nevertheless, the FCC concludes that 95.7% of the population has access to broadband at speeds of 25/3 Mbps (down from 98.2% in 2021) and 94.1% of the population has access to broadband at speeds of 100/20 Mbps (down from 94.1 in 2021).  Additionally, the FCC concludes that 83.1% of Americans in rural areas had access to broadband at speeds of 25/3 Mbps (down from 92.6% in 2021) and 72% of Americans living in rural areas had access to broadband at speeds of 100/20 Mbps (down from 76.9% in 2021).
    • Mobile Broadband Service – The FCC declines to set a benchmark for determining service availability of advanced telecommunications capability for mobile services, consistent with past Commission practice.  The FCC does, however, evaluate the availability of 5G-NR mobile broadband with speeds of 35/3 Mbps, based on BDC reported data.  As with the above, the FCC cautions against examining any changes between 2021 and 2022 but nevertheless concludes that approximately 91% of Americans lived in areas with 5G-NR with speeds of 35/3 Mbps in 2022, down from 97% in 2021, but an increase from the 72.1% reported in 2020.  Additionally, the FCC concludes that 64.3% of Americans living in rural areas have access to 5G-NR with speeds of 35/3 Mbps (down from 87.5% in 2021, but up from 43.3% in 2020).
    • Fixed and Mobile Broadband Data – At the end of 2022, approximately 45 million Americans lacked access to both fixed and mobile services, with 5G-NR service availability significantly lacking in rural areas compared to urban areas.
  3. Affordability:  The FCC finds that broadband services must be affordable in order for all Americans to have access to advanced telecommunications capability and truly close the connectivity gap.  The FCC concludes it did not have sufficient data to draw any conclusions as to the general affordability of broadband service or its affordability for particular types of households (though the FCC does nevertheless note its analysis suggests broadband is not affordable for many Americans).  The FCC plans to revisit this issue in future 706 inquiries.
  4. Adoption:  The FCC considers the goal of broadband adoption to be a universal lack of barriers to adoption other than service availability and service affordability – not 100% adoption.  The FCC recognizes there’s an interconnection between affordability and adoption, but nevertheless identifies lack of information, lack of digital literacy, and lack of affordable devices as barriers to adoption independent from affordability.  The FCC concludes that it lacks data on the barriers to adoption, and thus analyzes the data primarily as an indicator of potential barriers to adoption.
  5. Availability:  The FCC notes that all aspects of service quality should be evaluated in the context of availability and tentatively concludes that “if a ‘service’ does not have the characteristics reasonably expected of that service when a consumer wants to use it based on measurable statistical standards, that service is not ‘available.’”  The FCC also highlights the most important aspects of service quality, including latency, consistency of service, and other metrics such as service outages and access to inside wiring.  The FCC ultimately does not make a finding as to broadband availability, noting that it lacks a comprehensive data source for these issues, and plans to revisit this issue in future inquiries.
  6. Equitable Access:  The FCC limits its discussion of equitable access solely to presenting, for informational purposes, the demographic analysis required by section 706(c).  Specifically, the FCC determines, for each unserved area, the population, the population density, and the average per capita income.  While the FCC does not make any findings, it does note that “[o]n average, service availability is highest in census blocks with highest median household incomes, the highest population densities, and the lowest household poverty rates.”
  7. School and Classroom Access:  The FCC updates its prior short-term speed benchmark of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff and long-term speed benchmark of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff.  While that previous short-term goal has been met, the FCC now adopts the previous long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff as its new short-term speed benchmark.  The FCC does not establish a new long-term goal.
  8. Prior Commission Action to Promote Universal Service Goals for Advanced Telecommunications Capability: The FCC notes it has taken several steps to improve universal service and promote access to advanced telecommunications services, including by improving how the FCC measures broadband deployment and increasing interagency coordination on broadband deployment funding, removing barriers to and encouraging broadband investments, improving access to spectrum, supporting programs designed to improve broadband affordability, adoption, and access, providing funding for broadband deployment through the USF, and facilitating school, library, and healthcare access through funding programs such as E-Rate, the Rural Healthcare Program, and the Telehealth Program.
  9. Section 706 Determination:  The FCC concludes that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.  The FCC finds that, although deployment of advanced telecommunications services has increased overall, these advancements are not occurring quickly enough and have reached far too few Americans, particularly when evaluated under the new 100/20 Mbps benchmark.  Rural Americans and those living on Tribal lands, in particular, are the farthest from universal deployment and lack sufficient advanced telecommunications capability.

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The post FCC Releases Adopted 2024 Section 706 Report first appeared on Telecommunications Law Professionals, PLLC.

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