The FCC’s dangerous proposal to classify mobile as broadband hides a good idea

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There’s an FCC proposal that everyone is up in arms about, but it’s not net neutrality. Or the privacy thing. Or prison calling reform. Or any of the other things. This one proposes equating mobile and fixed broadband for the purposes of tracking the health of internet access in America. That’s a bad idea for several reasons — but there’s a good one hiding right next to it.

The proposal is part of an annual report on broadband deployment for which the FCC is responsible. They and others use this data to inform where to invest in infrastructure, where to send federal aid and so on. Naturally, as the broadband landscape evolves, the report must evolve with it.

And it is in this spirit that the FCC asks if it should focus its inquiry on “whether some form of advanced telecommunications capability, be it fixed or mobile, is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” (Emphasis theirs.)

Now, others have already objected to this, including Commissioner Clyburn (“I am extremely skeptical of this line of inquiry.”) — and a group of Senators who also asked that the comment deadline on this Notice of Inquiry be pushed back. It was, and you now have until September 21st to add your voice to the pile. (Instructions at the bottom of the post.)

But while you could simply object to the idea that mobile and fixed broadband are interchangeable, you might instead consider supporting the FCC’s other proposal, which few have mentioned.

The question the FCC must address every year is “whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

In the paragraph after the one in question, the FCC suggests as an alternative that instead of counting just fixed broadband as what’s needed to satisfy the condition, or allowing mobile to do so, they could require both:

Alternatively, we seek comment on whether we should evaluate the deployment based on the presence of both fixed and mobile services. As noted elsewhere in this Inquiry, mobile and fixed broadband have different technical characteristics and limitations, and broadband providers choose to market their fixed and mobile products in different ways. This is consistent with the approach that the Commission has generally taken in the universal service context, by adopting programs to subsidize fixed and mobile broadband independent of one another.

In other words, in order to be considered as being provided adequate broadband capabilities by the FCC’s standards, you would need to have both fixed broadband and mobile data service meeting the basic requirements.

This is a great idea. Few people use only one or the other, because both are very necessary to everyday life and work in different ways. But you can’t take your gigabit home connection with you to the store or on the road, so it’s not sufficient on its own.

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