FCC considers adding wireless at 10 Mbps to broadband progress report

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The FCC will considering including wireless, including fixed wireless, in its broadband progress report.

The FCC said it will investigate whether to add fixed and mobile wireless services to its broadband progress report, a report that previously focused mostly on wired services.

“Americans today regularly use both fixed and mobile advanced telecommunications capability to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications,” the FCC wrote in its notice of inquiry. “We propose to incorporate both fixed and mobile advanced telecommunications services into our Section 706 inquiry.”

Specifically, the agency noted that, as of the beginning of 2016, fully 13% of Americans across all demographic groups are relying solely on smartphones for home internet access. The FCC added that roughly 80% of Americans used smartphones, and that LTE speeds range from around 8 Mbps to 15 Mbps. “And in recent months, the four nationwide mobile broadband providers have announced or expanded their ‘unlimited’ data offerings,” the agency noted, adding that average mobile data use has increased from less than 1 GB per month in 2012 to approximately 4 GB per month in 2016.

Further, the agency specifically pointed to fixed wireless—which often seeks to supplant wired connections in rural areas—as a trend worth noting. “The fixed broadband industry continues to evolve. Certain providers, offering different technologies, have recently begun or announced the deployment of fixed gigabit (1,000 Mbps) connections in particular communities, including Altice, Cincinnati Bell, Verizon, Hawaiian Telcom, AT&T, Google Fiber, Comcast, and CenturyLink,” the agency wrote.

“Given that Americans use both fixed and mobile broadband technologies, we seek comment on whether we should evaluate the deployment of fixed and mobile broadband as separate and distinct ways to achieve advanced telecommunications capability,” the FCC said.

The agency noted that its current benchmark for wired services sits at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, and that around 59% of residential fixed connections equal or exceed such speed.

“Should the Commission set a mobile speed benchmark, and if so, what it should be? We anticipate that any speed benchmark we set would be lower than the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps benchmark adopted for fixed broadband services, given differing capabilities of mobile broadband,” the agency added, proposing a mobile speed benchmark of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps.

In reporting on the inquiry, Telecompetitor pointed out that the only FCC commissioner to file a statement with the agency’s inquiry was Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who argued that “mobile and fixed broadband are complements, not substitutes.”

Telecompetitor also pointed out that the FCC in 2015, under the lead of former Chairman Tom Wheeler, raised the benchmark wired speed from 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to 25/3 Mbps—a move opposed by Republican commissioner Ajit Pai, who is now the FCC’s chairman.