fiber broadband patch panel

The federal government should not use a broadband speed definition that precludes fixed wireless, argued AT&T Executive Vice President of Federal Regulatory Relations Joan Marsh in a blog post late last week. As Marsh notes, the definition is important because the federal infrastructure legislation that is expected to be adopted soon is likely to include a considerable amount of funding for broadband deployments.

The current FCC minimum broadband speed definition of 25/3 Mbps is too low, Marsh argues in the blog post.

“When zooming, streaming and tweeting is combined in an average household of four, it’s easy to conclude that download speeds must increase,” Marsh wrote.

She goes on to say, though, that “what is less clear is whether we need to increase upload speeds to the same level as download speeds for the purpose of defining ‘unserved’ areas.”

AT&T Broadband Speed Definition

Marsh argues that a broadband speed definition built on symmetrical speeds could dramatically expand the locations deemed “unserved” and could lead to some areas being unnecessarily overbuilt while leaving fewer dollars to support areas in greater need.

Fixed wireless technology can easily deliver 100 Mbps downstream when deployed using C-band spectrum, Marsh notes. (AT&T was one of the biggest winning bidders in that auction.) But she adds that “wireless networks are not built to deliver symmetrical speeds, so any mandate around symmetrical performance could undermine the delivery of these efficient and robust technology solutions in hard to serve areas of the country.”

One of the proposals for broadband infrastructure funding, known as the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, calls for $80 billion to be awarded through a competitive bidding process and would require funding recipients to deploy service supporting symmetrical gigabit speeds – a target that essentially would require fiber to the premises. The Fiber Broadband Association has argued that if the AAIA proposal is adopted, funding should only go to fixed wireless if no provider bids to deploy fiber broadband.

Marsh argues, though, that requiring funding recipients to deploy fiber would increase deployment costs and “there is no compelling evidence that those expenditures are justified over the service quality of a 50/10 or 100/20 Mbps product.”

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) took a position similar to Marsh’s in a broad set of policy recommendations that it made last week that included recommendations about broadband infrastructure funding. The association, which represents fixed wireless providers, also argued against a symmetrical services requirement for any broadband funding program and argued that priority should be given to communities that have no broadband over upgrades to existing broadband.

AT&T’s fixed wireless advocacy underscores the importance that the technology is gaining in providers’ plans – not just the small rural WISPs but also major broadband providers. And those major broadband providers have considerable influence over federal policymakers.

For example, major broadband providers were instrumental in persuading the FCC to add a 50/5 Mbps speed tier for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction – a speed tier most likely to be associated with fixed wireless.

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6 thoughts on “AT&T Weighs in on Broadband Speed Definition, Argues Against Rural Symmetrical Fiber Broadband

  1. I’m not sure whether to laugh, cry, or go scream out into the street!! Of course AT&T and others are advocating against real-life, measurable at the premise, promised/delivered results that come from a fiber connection….because they won’t and don’t plan on ever doing this. But for those that are doing this every day, the results are in…and the results are awesome!! AT&T may not need the funding, keep delivering 5G or whatever they want to name the next generation of’s all marketing honestly. Meanwhile, fiber-to-the-premise is working for rural high-cost areas, and we maintain that enough is being spent to build networks this way. Give us the money and the territory, and we’ll CONTINUE to prove it. 6000 subscribers (so far) in rural southeast Missouri can attest. Please, please, please don’t listen to the masters of telecom funding wastes…actually arguing that speed isn’t what they need. LOL You, the customer, you surely don’t need it to be fast AND symmetrical. Let US (insert your telecom giant name here) tell you what you need. LOL
    Oh the lobbying from telecom giants and making sure rural consumers are kept down. Wireless is “good enough”. “They don’t need symmetrical speeds”.

    1. ATT will not provide a quality experience to rural users unless forced. They are presently installing fiber to compete against cable ISPs and not going outside of any tows around central ky.

  2. I could not care what AT&T “thinks” rural folks need or deserve. None of it matters one whit to me because I cannot wait to become a customer of Starlink when it becomes available in my area. To hell with all the government “rural broadband initiatives” and the snidely ways the recipients get out of actually providing widespread service ability and levels of service equaling what customers demand while running off with the money.

    Starlink will provide the same service to everyone, no matter where they are located, what a concept! No “service available in select areas” garbage any more, if you can see the sky at your location, you will have top-level service available to you, just amazing. No more worrying about “high cost areas” and population densities being factors and excuses for not providing service. If you are the only human being in a 20-mile radius, you will have the same service available to you as someone living in the most densely populated city on the planet.

    Starlink will be a world-changer and I can’t wait to watch it unfold.

  3. Large companies have been selling “wireless will be enough for rural areas” for years and too many in charge of policy and regulations have bought it and have led to even greater digital divides. Rural residents need the same high-speed options, with sufficient upload speeds, as urban areas. Depending on the download speed, It doesn’t necessarily have to be symmetric but uploads have to be adequate. We need fiber-to-the-premise AND high-speed mobile wireless networks, not one or the other. Every year the requirements of our networks grow and we probably cannot fathom how much bandwidth citizens will need in 5-10 years. It is the best investment to find ways to build networks that will provide the required services for the next 30+ years and make sure they are sustainable for that time period. Wireless-only areas will require many, many more towers to provide any type of minimum coverage and speeds in the future and all towers will have fiber at the base. Just take fiber all the way to the premise in the majority of rural areas. In the long run it will be cheaper, citizens will have adequate service and you won’t have towers everywhere.

  4. It is not that they cannot build symmetrical networks – they do.
    The problem here is that if this becomes the new definition for High Speed Internet, and all this new funding becomes available to build those networks in rural America, then where does that leave urban America with all of their asymmetrical customers (the majority of US subscribers)? It leaves them with what would have to be called Low Speed Internet and not federal funding to fix it.

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