Comments to the FCC on Increasing the Minimum Broadband Speed Benchmark

Through our work providing last-mile internet connectivity to some of Maryland’s most historically-excluded communities, we have witnessed the transformational impact that adequate internet connectivity can have for communities. We continue to support efforts that increase the quality and availability of access to internet connectivity, and we know that a fundamental part of this work is setting effective ways to benchmark success.

Yesterday, we submitted a comment to the Federal Communications Commission in response to their call for comments on increasing the minimum broadband speed benchmark. Our aim is to work towards a benchmark measure that continues to support the progress made in addressing the connectivity gap in historically-excluded communities. 

“While the simplest response to this inquiry would be to advocate for an increase in speed benchmarks, such a response is inevitably inadequate and will be outdated if not at the point of approval, shortly thereafter, thus making it highly inefficient and ineffective.”

Andrew Coy

CEO & President, The Digital Harbor Foundation

December 1, 2023


This commentary aims to address the Federal Communications Commission’s Notice of Inquiry regarding broadband speed benchmarks and is in response to the encouragement to help determine “the most effective ways to complete this statutorily mandated task” of “evaluating service goals for broadband.” While the simplest response to this inquiry would be to advocate for an increase in speed benchmarks, such a response is inevitably inadequate and will be outdated if not at the point of approval, shortly thereafter, thus making it highly inefficient and ineffective. A more meaningful and comprehensive approach would be the creation of a new tool—which I name herein the “Broadband Speed Index” (BSI). Modeled after the structure and function of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the BSI as proposed herein would offer a dynamic solution to the challenges associated with, and outdated nature of, static benchmark increases.

Challenges with Static Benchmark Increases

Incrementally raising benchmarks in a static manner poses a fundamental challenge: the adopted standard is highly likely obsolete shortly after initial implementation. Such an approach would be an abdication of duty as it fails to achieve the “statutorily mandated goals of ensuring universal service for advanced telecommunications capability” is being “deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner.” The proposed BSI addresses this challenge by establishing a formula that evaluates and benchmarks basic required speeds at predetermined intervals which then would establish a regular and predictable increase more representative of the actual needs of consumer, business, and educational users.

Proposal for the Broadband Speed Index

The BSI’s foundation lies in the development of a “basket of goods,” mirroring the CPI’s approach. This basket would encompass common online activities, considering an average household size and usage, divided into both download and upload activities as well as latency. Such online activities could include utilization of online websites, telemedicine or distance learning tools, remote work environments, video conferencing, streaming services, and other common internet activities. By factoring in the variance between published “up to speeds” and reliably delivered speeds, the BSI would also be able to establish a standard that can be regularly updated, ensuring relevance. The BSI, akin to the CPI, would undergo annual revisions, as well as periodic surveys and data collection efforts that would monitor changing speed requirements and the average speed packages offered by internet providers. This approach would represent a “fresh look at the standards” and the ways in which these standards are determined, and would reduce the current extensive latency between technological advances and regulatory guidance.

Role of Consumer Price Index in Government Decision-Making

The CPI holds significance for the U.S. government in assessing inflation trends and informing policy decisions. It guides the Federal Reserve in monetary policy, aids in program adjustments such as Social Security benefits, and influences federal income tax calculations. The CPI is a foundational data source, assisting policymakers in resource allocation, economic policy design, and addressing economic disparities.

Benefits and Applications of Broadband Price Index

The BPI would serve several critical purposes, including monitoring speed requirements in under-resourced areas, evaluating the impact of government initiatives, and informing decisions related to digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure investment. Furthermore, the BPI could be represented in relation to cost and demonstrate relative affordability of Internet by region or over time, adjusted for the “inflation” of cost per regular/anticipated uses. It would contribute to a better understanding of how broadband speeds affect consumers and businesses in an increasingly interconnected world, and would be far more responsive to the consumer use trends that “strongly suggest that Americans expect and need faster broadband connections,” which has been painfully on display over last few years, and which are not only here to stay but only likely to increase over time. Indeed, the Internet is arguably only ever going to be more important and essential than it is today for government services, employment, education, and business, in which “bandwidth consumption continues to increase steadily and shows no sign of stopping.”

In conclusion, the proposal for a Broadband Speed Index, modeled after the Consumer Price Index, offers a more substantive and adaptable solution to the challenges posed by static benchmark increases. This approach ensures relevance and efficiency in addressing the evolving landscape of broadband access. As stated by Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, “The pandemic made crystal clear that access to broadband is no longer just nice-to-have, it is need-to-have for everyone, everywhere.” And that “During this time and even before it, the needs of internet users surpassed the Federal Communications Commission’s standard for broadband of 25 Megabits per second down and 3 Megabits per second up. This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low-income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind.” I appload these sentiments and feel the creation of a Broadband Speed Index would an essential way for “the United States to set big goals in order to get big things done” and respond to “this inquiry to update our national broadband standard” by taking, in the words of Commissioner Brendan Carr, “a more holistic approach to the question of setting broadband speed metrics and other benchmarks.”