FCC Battles Over Broadband Expansion

Controversial new report concluds not enough Americans have access to high-speed internet and that the government should step in — not everyone agrees

Broadband is not being made available fast enough around the nation, and the government needs to step in, a Federal Communications Commission report on Tuesday claimed.

Already the commission's attempt to put a handle on the issue is kicking off a new battle between the commission’s Democrats and Republicans.

On a 3-to-2 vote Tuesday, the FCC reported that while broadband is available in most areas, between 14 million and 24 million Americans in rural and poor areas still lack access.

The report called the prospect of those people getting broadband connections without government involvement “bleak” and suggested the lack of connections could threaten the economic viability of the locations.

It suggested government assistance in both increasing the availability of mobile spectrum and supporting broadband expansion.

It’s that "government assistance" idea that the commission’s two Republicans oppose.

They noted the findings are opposite that of previous reports. They also questioned some of the data used to make the determination and suggest the conclusion hints of justification for a far bigger FCC agenda than just improving broadband connections.

Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested that the report could “be used to justify additional regulation” — including regulating internet connections as telephone services.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Meredith A. Baker called the recommendation “inopportune” and a “striking departure” from the past.

“I cannot support this decision,” she said in a statement. “Broadband infrastructure deployment and investment are a remarkable and continuing success story, and I am troubled by giving such significant efforts a failing grade.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the commission’s Democratic members, meanwhile, strongly supported the conclusion.

“The report points out the great broadband successes in the United States, including as many as 290 million Americans who have gained access to broadband over the past decade,” he said in a statement. “But the statute [requiring the report] requires more. It requires the agency to reach a conclusion about whether all—not some, not most—Americans are being served in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

As part of the report, the FCC set a new higher standard for determining whether the internet connections are truly broadband. That new standard is 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream.