Oct. 4, 2018
On Monday, OTI submitted reply comments in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) proceeding to determine whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner. This review is crucial, as the findings from this process dictate how the FCC approaches policy-making while also providing data to inform the federal government’s decision to allocate funds for broadband deployment. As OTI argued in its first round of comments in September, the FCC needs to improve its processes for assessing the deployment and availability of high-speed broadband across the country. Our reply comments focused primarily on the record’s (1) strong opposition to the suggestion that mobile broadband service could be considered a viable substitute for fixed broadband services, (2) support for increasing the throughput speed threshold for the FCC’s definition of “advanced telecommunications capability,” and (3) evidence that the FCC’s current reliance on Form 477 data greatly undermines the reliability of its Section 706 findings.
First, the FCC should not deem mobile broadband as a substitute for fixed broadband. Although some commenters point to studies that show some consumers have opted to use mobile broadband exclusively, they do not acknowledge that this consumer behavior has been found to be in response to the high costs of fixed broadband, rather than the ability of mobile services to serve as a viable substitute. When consumers have the means to purchase both mobile and fixed services, they generally do. Further, studies show that low-income consumers make up a majority of the population that are dependent on mobile BIAS for connectivity. Further, the record shows that rural areas would be disproportionately harmed by a finding that mobile broadband is equivalent to fixed broadband—as outside areas with higher population densities and major highways, service grows weak and spotty.
Second, there is strong support for the FCC to increase its definition for “advanced telecommunications capability” to be higher than the current throughput speed threshold of 25 Megabits per second download by 3 Megabits per second. The FCC should be setting the goal to be leading the world in broadband connections and throughput speeds, particularly as innovations in how Americans use the internet for work, education, and entertainment is ever-growing. The U.S. currently ranks 10th in the world for average connection speed, and the FCC should be setting a forward-looking goal to get the U.S. closer to the top. While OTI offered a conservative compromise of 100 Megabits per second download speeds as a new threshold for high-speed broadband, a bigger and bolder goal for the Commission to set would be 1 Gigabit per second download speeds. OTI urges the Commission to adopt a definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” with a vision for the future to ensure that the American broadband market is keeping up with the demand of online services.
Finally, the record shows support for a change in the Commission’s dependence on industry-reported data from Form 477. Although Form 477 reporting offers the Commission consistent data from internet service providers, that data on its own is too inaccurate to base an entire report on broadband access and deployment due to significant caveats. Internet service providers are able to declare a census block as served—if only one location there has service, and are only required to report the speeds they are feasibly able to provide, not the speeds that are actually available in a certain location. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently detailed these significant shortcomings and how they resulted in overstated broadband access data in Tribal lands. The Commission should heed the findings of that GAO report, along with its own previous acknowledgements that Form 477 data results in overstated broadband deployment figures, and incorporate independent checks on industry-reported data, as well as fixing existing caveats in Form 477 reporting requirements.