Cable company Charter: Don’t favor mobile broadband over fixed

Charter Craig Cowden at MWC Americas
Charter's Craig Cowden outlined the company's wireless efforts at the MWC Americas show last year.

Charter Communications—the nation’s fourth-largest cable company—offered an argument for Washington, D.C., regulators that aligned far more closely with the wireless industry’s policy positions than Charter’s traditional wired broadband roots. Charter also disclosed that it is testing 5G wireless technology in six different markets.

“Charter believes fixed wireless access technologies at lower frequencies could be suitable for rural broadband, providing wireline-like broadband connectivity and speeds, and is conducting trials in the 3.5 GHz band,” the company said on its website. “Accordingly, with the FCC in the midst of proceedings to examine the steps it can take to facilitate the deployment of broadband, and Congress and the Administration working on ways to enhance America’s broadband infrastructure, it is important that the policies and regulations adopted don’t favor one technology over another.”

Charter’s new statement appears to be a response to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s new stance that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service. “Mobile services are not full substitutes for fixed services—there are salient differences between the two technologies,” the agency wrote in its fact sheet on the topic (PDF).

Pai said that his new 2018 Broadband Deployment Report “notes there are differences between the two technologies, including clear variations in consumer preferences and demands. As a result, the draft report evaluates progress in deploying fixed broadband service as well as progress in deploying mobile broadband service and takes a holistic approach to evaluating the deployment of these services.”

Charter appeared to put itself at odds with Pai’s argument. “Regulatory parity is also important to maintain and advance competition in the broadband marketplace. Policies or regulations that place more costs and burdens on one side or the other undermine competition, which ultimately harms consumers, innovation and investment,” Charter said. “Whether it’s testing 5G technologies, investing in broadband infrastructure or expanding the reach of our wired network, we are committed to doing more to deliver better and faster broadband to more communities – large and small, urban and suburban. Smart, technology-neutral policies, coupled with appropriate streamlining measures, will advance these efforts and we look forward to working with policymakers to get it right.”

Importantly, Charter outlined its efforts to deliver broadband to customers across 41 states, and noted that it expects to “rely increasingly on next-generation wireless technologies like 5G, and significantly improve and expand the reach of our wired broadband network.”

Specifically, Charter said it is testing “next-gen wireless connectivity” in markets including Orlando, Florida; Reno, Nevada; Clarksville, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; Bakersfield, California; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Charter’s position on mobile broadband comes as little surprise. The company in September of last year offered a detailed look at its wide-ranging embrace of wireless technology, including its planned move to 802.11ax technology for Wi-Fi, its plans to launch an MVNO service through Verizon by June or July of 2018, and the company’s multiple test markets for both fixed and mobile services running on 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum.

“Charter already is a wireless company,” Craig Cowden, the cable company’s SVP of wireless technology, proclaimed during a presentation at the Mobile World Congress Americas trade show in September, in conjunction with the CBRS Alliance. He explained that the cable operator’s network carries as much as 80% of wireless traffic in customers’ homes or offices. “Although we do not monetize that. We are not a mobility provider.”