FCC chairman: ‘Mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service’

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai is the chairman of the FCC. (FCC)

The chairman of the FCC said today 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).

The news coincided with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement that he is sharing a draft of the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report with the rest of the Commission. He said the draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the commission: download speeds of 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps upload.

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“The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service,” Pai said in a statement (PDF). “Instead, it 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.”

“Both fixed and mobile services can enable access to information, entertainment, and employment options, but there are salient differences between the two,” the FCC said in its fact sheet on the topic. “Beyond the most obvious distinction that mobile services permit user mobility, there are clear variations in consumer preferences and demands for fixed and mobile services.”

The agency added that, because fixed services and mobile services are not full substitutes, it will evaluate providers’ progress in deploying fixed broadband service as well as progress in deploying mobile broadband service.

“Any analysis that only looked at the progress in deploying fixed broadband service or only looked at the progress in deploying mobile broadband service would be incomplete,” the agency noted. “Therefore, the draft report takes a holistic view of the market and examines whether we are both making progress in deploying fixed broadband service and making progress in deploying mobile broadband service.”

The FCC’s position on the difference between fixed and mobile comes as a number of companies are launching fixed wireless services as a way to reach homes, offices and other locations more cheaply than they could with wired deployments.

For example, as part of its participation in the FCC's Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF-II), AT&T plans to use fixed wireless technologies to reach more than 1.1 million locations by 2020. The service provides 10 Mbps downloads of up to 160 GB of data per month, with additional data available at $10 per GB up to a maximum of $200 a month.

Similarly, Frontier confirmed in September it was testing broadband wireless with plans to deploy it in more areas to meets its CAF II rollout commitments.

Other noteworthy fixed wireless providers include Starry, Rise Broadband, Common Networks, C Spire and others. All are using various wireless technologies to reach users inside their homes or offices, either to compete directly with wired service providers or to reach customers who can’t access wired connections.

Indeed, Verizon has said it will use 5G network technology to offer residential broadband services this year in three to five cities in the second half of 2018. Verizon said its initial 5G residential broadband services could reach approximately 30 million households nationwide.