GAO wants FCC to explain 25/3 Mbps broadband benchmark

Is 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream fast enough for today’s consumers? Who knows! A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hasn’t really done a great job of explaining whether and why its current 25/3 Mbps broadband standard remains sufficient.

Each year the FCC puts out a report assessing the state of broadband deployments in the U.S. But the GAO said it found a variety of inconsistencies in six of the reports issued by the commission between 2015 and 2021. For instance, in five reports it discussed the significance of its benchmark in relation to videoconferencing, but did not do so in a report issued in 2019.

The FCC last updated its broadband benchmark in 2015. It took the opportunity at the time to discuss future speed needs and thoroughly explain its rationale for its new standard. However, the GAO said the FCC has done neither in any of its reports since then.

“Our analysis of notices of inquiry and deployment reports shows that FCC has not consistently communicated from year to year how it reviews the broadband speed benchmark and determines whether to update it,” the GAO wrote.

The reason this inconsistency is such a big deal, the GAO explained, is because the FCC’s benchmark has historically been considered or even adopted by government entities tasked with distributing broadband funding.

“FCC could demonstrate greater transparency and help assure the public that the benchmark is connected to actual broadband use and needs by reporting the scope of and steps of its research and analysis, the data and analysis used to support its assertions, and the rationale for why it agrees or disagrees with the stakeholder comments it receives,” GAO concluded.

Responding to the GAO report, the FCC said agrees transparency and consistency are important and via a Notice of Inquiry will seek comments on how it can improve public communications “about how it reviews and determines whether to update” its benchmark. That Notice of Inquiry, though, is subject to approval by a majority of the FCC.