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.