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On November 1, 2023, the FCC announced that it would begin an inquiry relative to its annual evaluation of the state of broadband service across the country as required by section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Act). Section 706 of the Act requires the FCC to annually conduct an inquiry concerning the availability of advanced telecommunications to all Americans and whether such capability is being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner. This inquiry produced the 2024 Section 706 Report which was adopted by the FCC on March 14, 2024. The following are some of the key findings and conclusions included in the Report:

* The FCC’s benchmark for high-speed fixed broadband service is raised to 100/20 consistent with standards now used in multiple federal and state programs such as the BEAD program and the FCC’s EA-CAM USF program. This represents a four-fold increase from the 25/3 benchmark established by the FCC in 2015.

* The Report uses the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection (BDC) information for the first time (previous Section 706 Reports were based on Form 477 data) which shows that fixed terrestrial broadband service (excluding satellite) has not been deployed to 7% of Americans nationwide as of December 2022. The BDC data shows that the lack of fixed broadband service is greater in rural and Tribal areas. Almost 28% of Americans in rural areas and more than 23% in Tribal areas lack access to fixed broadband service.

* While not establishing a speed benchmark for mobile broadband service, the Report shows that at year end 2022 mobile 5G-NR service has not been deployed at speeds of 35/3 to approximately 9% of Americans nationwide. The figures are higher for rural and Tribal areas at 36% and 20% respectively.

* The Report concludes that for Americans to truly have access to advanced telecommunications services they must have access to both fixed terrestrial at 100/20 speeds and mobile 5G-NR services at 35/3.

* A long term goal for fixed terrestrial broadband service is adopted at 1 Gbps/500 Mbps to set a target that providers of broadband services can strive to meet. The benchmark for schools and classroom access to broadband is increased to 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff. The report indicates that that 74% of school districts presently meet this new goal.

Based on its evaluation of the data analyzed for the Report, the FCC concludes that its universal service goals for Section 706 have not been met and that advanced telecommunications services are not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner in particular in rural and Tribal areas. The FCC expects that broadband deployment will improve in the future as a result of the BEAD program as well as other federal and state programs but based on currently available data a negative finding is reached regarding Section 706. Section 706 states that if a negative finding is reached the FCC must take immediate action to accelerate deployment of advanced services. In this regard, the Report includes an extensive discussion of previous and ongoing FCC efforts aimed at increasing the availability of advanced services nationwide.

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