Maybe Americans don’t need fast home Internet service, FCC suggests
By saying mobile is good enough, FCC could find that deployment problem is solved.
By JON BRODKIN
Aug 9 2017
Americans might not need a fast home Internet connection, the Federal Communications Commission suggests in a new document. Instead, mobile Internet via a smartphone might be all people need.
The suggestion comes in the FCC’s annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”
The FCC found during George W. Bush’s presidency that fast Internet service was being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion. But during the Obama administration, the FCC determined repeatedly that broadband isn’t reaching Americans fast enough, pointing in particular to lagging deployment in rural areas. These analyses did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or “fixed”) Internet connection via cable, fiber, or some other technology.
Last year, the FCC updated its analysis with a conclusion that Americans need home and mobile access. Because home Internet connections and smartphones have different capabilities and limitations, Americans should have access to both instead of just one or the other, the FCC concluded under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Pai wants change
But with Republican Ajit Pai now in charge, the FCC seems poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all one needs. In doing so, the FCC could conclude that broadband is already being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, and thus the commission could take fewer steps to promote deployment and competition.
This would also be the first time that the FCC has set a broadband speed standard for mobile; at 10Mbps/1Mbps, it would be less than half as fast as the FCC’s home broadband speed standard of 25Mbps/3Mbps.
Although the FCC might conclude that mobile broadband can replace a cable or fiber connection, the commission also says consumers can’t expect mobile to be as fast. “We anticipate that any speed benchmark we set [for mobile] would be lower than the 25Mbps/3Mbps benchmark adopted for fixed broadband services, given differing capabilities of mobile broadband,” the FCC said.
The changes were signaled yesterday in a Notice of Inquiry, the FCC’s first step toward completing a new analysis of broadband deployment. The document asks the public for comments on a variety of questions, including whether mobile broadband can substitute for fixed Internet connections. You can file comments at this link; initial comments are due September 7, and reply comments are due September 22.
Is mobile data enough?
This week’s Notice of Inquiry says that “advanced telecommunications capability is provided in different circumstances using fixed or mobile service.” It also asks: