Broadband Needs of Rural Small Businesses and Federal Programs to Support Them

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In a 2021 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that some small businesses lack access to broadband, but may benefit from federal programs that fund deployment in rural areas. Small businesses can likely reap the benefits of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) and the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rural Utilities Service's (RUS) funding to expand broadband deployment. Yet, despite these benefits, much of the literature GAO reviewed suggests that FCC's current broadband minimum benchmark speeds—25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloading and 3 Mbps for uploading—are likely too slow to meet many small business speed needs. The FCC and RUS have helped increase broadband speeds in rural areas. For example, USDA’s ReConnect is mostly funding projects that propose to build fiber, which is generally associated with the fastest speeds available. However, in the GAO's July 2021 report, they found that FCC has not assessed the speed needs of small businesses to inform future benchmark analyses; which causes a lack of assurance that its benchmark is sufficient for supporting broadband access that meets the needs of small businesses. Thus, the GAO has recommended that the FCC solicit input from stakeholders and conduct an analysis of small businesses' broadband speed needs and incorporate the results of this analysis into its determination of the benchmark for broadband.

Broadband: Needs of Rural Small Businesses and Federal Programs to Support Them