FCC says 150 GB is all rural residents need

6 April 2016 by Steve Blum
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Urban benchmarks for rural residents. Right.

Telephone companies that get federal subsidies to provide rural broadband service have to offer at least one service package with a monthly data cap of 150 GB and charge no more than $71 for it. That’s the top line from an annual survey run by the Federal Communications Commission to set benchmark rates for subsidised service in high cost – also known as rural – areas.
The survey looks at rates paid by consumers in urban areas, in particular those served by cable and fiber to the home systems, and the amount of data they use every month. The notice posted late yesterday by the FCC says…

According to the Commission’s 2015 Measuring Broadband America data, 80 percent of cable broadband subscribers used 156 GB or less per month. For simplicity, for 2016, we specify a minimum monthly usage allowance of 150 GBs for [large incumbent carriers in the current round of Connect America Fund subsidies].

In the December 2014 Connect America Order, the Commission codified for [small rural telephone companies] the requirement adopted in 2011 that [they] offer usage capacity that is reasonably comparable to comparable offerings in urban areas. We conclude that we will use the same approach for annually determining the required minimum usage allowance and therefore apply the monthly usage allowance of 150 GBs to [small rural telephone companies] as well.

The FCC’s method for calculating benchmark prices is a little more complicated. The summary data from the FCC’s survey is available to download – I’m still trying to hack through it – but at first glance the $71 rate falls midway between the (really) rough average for AT&T – about $60 a month – and big cable – something like $80 a month. But that includes all service tiers, not just the 10 Mbps download rate that FCC thinks is good enough for subsidised service, rural and urban alike.