FCC to redefine broadband, launches net neutrality inquiry
The FCC is preparing for a possible revision of how it defines broadband, and how it defines broadband availability. As it does so, it will simultaneously look into issues associated with network neutrality and competition.
The Commission’s current definition of broadband is a minimum transmission rate of 200 kbps. As for availability, if a provider has a single customer in a particular zip code, the FCC assumes the provider’s service is available to every customer in that zip code.
The FCC publishes its findings in semiannual reports, but the quality of the data in those reports has been criticized as inadequate and even misleading by everyone from consumer groups to the U.S. General Accounting Office.
The FCC’s process of revising how it evaluates broadband availability and broadband competition was announced in March, and is only now just beginning with two measures: 1) the issuance of a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) into whether broadband services are being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, and 2) a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) exploring ways to collect information the Commission needs to set broadband policy in the future.
Through the NPRM, the FCC is now asking for comments on the issue of what constitutes a high-speed data service and how it measures availability. The issue of availability will also be examined in finer detail, to evaluate the so-called digital divide between those able to afford connectivity and those who cannot.
Inquiries under the separate, simultaneous NOI are fairly wide-ranging, but all elements point to the network neutrality debate. One line of inquiry will be into how every company that has a role in transmission handles packet management. The Commission also intends to look into pricing policy, including tiering – again, with an eye to the net neutrality debate. Also, if the FCC determines some remedy is necessary for whatever conditions it discovers, it will also have to determine whether it has the authority to impose those remedies.