The FCC is seeking input on how it should gauge whether broadband is being deployed in a timely manner — a determination the commission makes annually in the FCC Broadband Progress Report. Under consideration is “whether some form of advanced telecommunications capability, be it fixed or mobile, is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”
Alternatively, the commission asked for input on whether it should consider an area to be served only if both fixed and mobile broadband are available there. Traditionally the report has only considered fixed service in gauging broadband deployment progress.
The FCC’s information request came in the form of a notice of inquiry (NOI) adopted last week. In the NOI, the FCC proposed tracking both fixed and mobile broadband deployment in the Broadband Progress Report on the grounds that it meets the commission’s mandate to track advanced telecommunications deployment “without regard to any transmission media or technology.”
The only FCC commissioner to file a statement with the NOI was Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who argued that “mobile and fixed broadband are complements, not substitutes.”
She said the services are very different in terms of speed and data usage and that she has heard from “too many consumers who can only afford a mobile connection, and even then they have to drop service in the middle of the month because they cannot afford to pay for more data.”
The FCC Broadband Progress Report
The FCC Broadband Progress Report has been the subject of controversy in recent years. In early 2015 the commission, headed up at the time by former Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler, raised the target broadband speed from 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to 25/3 Mbps – and that change contributed to the FCC finding one year later that broadband was not being deployed in a timely fashion.
The higher broadband speed target was opposed by Republican commissioners Ajit Pai (now FCC chairman) and Michael O’Rielly, as well as by major carriers. Pai argued that the target should be consistent with the target set for the Connect America Fund broadband program and O’Rielly argued that targets should be set at the levels that customers currently need.
Not surprisingly, the new NOI seeks input on whether the target speed should be adjusted. Options that stakeholders are asked to consider include retaining the 25/3 Mbps target for fixed broadband but setting a lower speed target of perhaps 10/1 Mbps for mobile broadband. Additionally, the NOI asks for comments on whether the FCC should set targets for parameters such as data allowances and latency and asks stakeholders to consider measuring broadband progress against the previous year, rather than looking at the percentage of people who can get service at the target speed.
At the time that the FCC set the 25/3 Mbps broadband speed target, the commission also set a short-term goal for broadband deployments to schools of 100 Mbps and a longer-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff. NOI commenters are also asked for their input on whether these targets should be retained or adjusted.