On Thursday, OTI filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the availability of broadband across the United States. The FCC is obligated under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to encourage the deployment of “advanced telecommunications capability” to “all Americans” in a “reasonable and timely fashion.” As part of this responsibility, the FCC seeks comment from the public annually on how the agency should assess the state of broadband deployment and availability, including a radical proposal to consider mobile-only broadband internet access service as a reasonable substitute for fixed broadband internet access services.
In its comments, OTI explained that mobile broadband is not a substitute for fixed broadband—they are complements. Mobile services are generally more expensive, less reliable (particularly in rural areas), slower, and are also subject to restrictive data caps and expensive overage fees. Consumers also typically access mobile broadband on portable devices with smaller screens and limited computational abilities that cannot complete the full range of functions of a desktop or laptop computer for work, entertainment, and educational purposes. Consumer behavior also shows that they do not view mobile broadband as a replacement for fixed broadband because most consumers subscribe to both services rather than just one. Instead of using this proceeding to redefine what constitutes “advanced telecom services,” the FCC should be focusing on improving mobile broadband deployment in rural and other underserved areas. The FCC can do this in part by allowing providers to share spectrum, improving connectivity in areas lacking adequate coverage and infrastructure.
OTI also urged the FCC to continue steadily increasing its speed benchmarks to reflect the changing nature of fixed broadband. In the last Section 706 proceeding, OTI recommended a new benchmark of 50 Megabits per second download and 20 Megabits per second upload to reflect changes in how consumers use their fixed connections and the growth of high-bandwidth services online such as online video streaming platforms, video gaming, and video chat services.Those services have only continued to thrive and become more popular since then. Not only have services increased, but average throughput speeds in fixed broadband have also increased based on several recent findings, including one from Measurement Lab.
This proceeding is a significant step in the fight to ensure that all Americans, and particularly those in rural and low-income communities, have access to the online opportunities that broadband services offer. The FCC should be forward-looking in its Section 706 proceedings and look toward what the future needs of consumers will be rather than lowering the bar to hide America’s digital divide problem.