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FCC: A Broadband Assessment without Mobile is Incomplete

By / 8.24.2012

This week the FCC concluded that “broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion” in its eighth annual “Broadband Progress Report.”  It found 19 million Americans are still without fixed broadband access.

But note the word ‘fixed’ – this conclusion doesn’t include mobile access. The FCC didn’t forget wireless broadband; they explicitly chose not to include it. In fact, the FCC is operating under the mandate that all Americans should have access to fixed and mobile broadband. They use this as a justification for excluding mobile in their determination – that it should be assessed separately, even though no such assessment has been made. So someone who has a smartphone but no access to a wireline connection still counts as not having access.

That’s just silly – by excluding mobile access, the FCC is missing the fastest growing segment of the broadband market. And at this point it may take longer for all Americans to have access to fixed broadband than to mobile. The Telecommunications Industry Association estimates investment on mobile broadband infrastructure could total $100 billion through 2015. The FCC’s own data suggests that if access to either fixed or mobile were counted, the number of Americans without broadband access could be as low as 5.5 million.

Such an obvious exclusion makes the report’s findings hard to use in a meaningful way. It’s like judging a book by its cover – you’re missing a vital part of the story. Yet important regulatory decisions are being derived from this report. The only conclusion I derived from this report is that the FCC needs to adapt its mandates in a way that keeps pace with the fast-changing broadband landscape.