FCC Seeks Input On LTE Speeds For Yearly Telecom Inquiry

In accordance with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC is now opening its annual investigation to ensure that the data rates being delivered to wireless customers qualify as "advanced telecommunications." The goal of the act is to ensure that the latest available telecommunications technology — in this case, 4G LTE — is available to every American within a reasonable timeframe. In part, that depends on an assessment of what data speeds would qualify. The 2018 report concluded that no speed benchmark could be reasonably assigned. However, it also stated that the 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds advertised by providers as a minimum expectation to customers did not qualify. The carriers were effectively given a pass on that front because Ookla data, according to the FCC's new announcement, showed a real-world median speed of "10 Mbps/3 Mbps" down and up. For next year's report, the commission hopes to overcome challenges experienced in the investigation leading to the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, in order to set a viable benchmark.

To that end, the agency is currently taking comments on the matter in order to better make a determination as what base figures might work as a benchmark in the real world. The challenges in that aren't well defined but, for example, the 10Mbps speeds shown by Ookla were seen in "areas where most people live." Specifically, the commission is interested in whether the approach used last year is an acceptable standard to follow with consideration for the fact that speeds are not consistent everywhere. In fact, many consumers were already getting even better speeds and that trend is continuing. Recent reports based on an Open Signal evaluation suggest that at least two U.S. providers are consistently surpassing 20 Mbps. So it would appear that a better benchmark-setting method is needed, rather than relying on a minimum expectation set by the carriers themselves. Bearing that in mind, the commission is also taking comments on alternative ways to determine what the benchmark for "advanced telecommunications" actually are with regard to 4G LTE data rates.

Among other things, the FCC is also seeking comments as to whether or not mobile data and fixed wireless communications can substitute each other and to what extent. The two services were not deemed viable substitutes for one another in the most recent report from the FCC. In conjunction with that, the FCC will be making a similar determination as to whether the benchmark for fixed wired services, set at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload is still a reasonable minimum.

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