FCC Increases Rural Broadband Speeds Under Connect America Fund

WASHINGTON, DC – Broadband for rural consumers that is supported by the Connect America Fund must deliver the same speeds that 99 percent of urban Americans enjoy, the Federal Communications Commission said in a new order adopted.

The FCC will now require companies receiving Connect America funding for fixed broadband to serve consumers with speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. That is an increase reflecting marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the FCC set its previous requirement of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps speeds in 2011.

According to recent data, 99 percent of Americans living in urban areas have access to fixed broadband speeds of 10/1, which can accommodate more modern applications and uses. Moreover, the vast majority of urban households are able to subscribe to even faster service.

Rural Communications Services Must be Comparable to Urban Services
Congress directed the FCC to make available in rural areas communications services that are reasonably comparable to those in urban areas. Increasing the Connect America speed requirement means that rural Americans, like urban Americans, can tap the benefits provided by broadband through faster web downloads, improved video streaming, and service capable of supporting multiple users in a household.

In 2011, the FCC reformed its universal service program for rural telephone service so it can more effectively support networks delivering both broadband and voice. With the adoption of today’s Order, the FCC is prepared to make offers of support totaling up to nearly $1.8 billion annually to a class of larger carriers known as price cap carriers in early 2015, which will potentially expand service to over 5 million rural Americans.

The order makes a number of adjustments to the 2011 reforms to accommodate the higher speed requirement and better target Connect America funds to efficiently expand broadband into rural areas that would not otherwise be served. These changes include:

  • Increasing the terms of support for price cap carriers from five years to six years, with an option for a seventh year in certain circumstances

  • Providing increased flexibility in the build-out requirement, while still ensuring that support recipients are reaching out to Americans that were previously unserved

  • Forbearing from certain universal service obligations in low-cost census blocks where price cap carriers are not eligible to receive Connect America support, as well as census blocks where the carriers face competition

  • Requiring recipients that decline Connect America support in a state to continue to deliver voice service to high-cost census blocks until replaced through a competitive bidding process by another subsidized carrier that is required to deliver voice and 10/1 broadband.


The order also makes changes that will distribute traditional universal service support for small carriers more equitably and curb waste. Finally, the order helps ensure that carriers adhere to voice and broadband service obligations by setting clear consequences for failing to meet these standards.

 

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