We’ve known for too long that the old broadband speed standards – 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and three megabits per second upload – were not meeting the needs of increasingly connected households. Internet access is increasingly essential, and computer activities and programs are increasingly more bandwidth-intensive, 25/3 Mbps is barely enough bandwidth to keep up. 

Recently, the FCC finally voted to change the definition of “high-speed fixed broadband” to 100/20 Mbps – speeds already standard in multiple federal and state programs like BEAD and USF, but not at the FCC, which had been stuck at 25/3 Mbps since 2015.

Why do these definitions matter? Because the FCC and other government entities use them to determine progress toward closing the digital divide. While these speeds are not as robust as we would like – they are an improvement. 

As of 2022, only 42% of U.S. households have adopted broadband at this 100/20 Mbps FCC benchmark. Cost continues to be a problem for too many people and communities. That national medium price 100/20 Mbps is $101, with the three most expensive census divisions costing users an average of $185 in Alaska, $110 in the Mid-Atlantic, and $107 in the South Atlantic.

The lower a community member’s income, the less affordable broadband is for them.  

The full 2024 Section 706 Report is available here.

Diving Deep

Under section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC is obligated to report on whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner. Essential to meeting that goal is broadband affordability.

According to the report:

  • Individuals in the lowest 10 percent of household income spend an average of 7.7% of their income on broadband, whereas individuals in the 90th percentile spend an average of 0.61%.
  • 9% of all Americans lack mobile 5G coverage that achieves minimum speeds of 35/3 Mbps. That means 36% of Americans in rural areas and 20% of people living on Tribal Lands are without access to 5G networks.
  • 45 million Americans lack access to both 100/20 Mbps fixed service and 35/3 Mbps mobile 5G service;
  • 74% of school districts meet the 1 Gbps per 1,000 students benchmark for schools and classrooms.

What’s Next?

The report sets a long-term speed goal of achieving gigabit speeds for all, aiming for 1 Gbps download speeds paired with 500 Mbps upload speeds. The report calls this goal “a guidepost for evaluating efforts to encourage deployment.” 

We live in an increasingly interconnected world where access to high-speed broadband isn’t just a necessity; it’s a human right. We applaud the FCC for setting a future forward goal. Now we need them to not take another nine years to act on them.