Mobile broadband can’t take the place of wireline, FCC says

by Steve Blum • , ,

Probably not doing his homework.

Mobile broadband service is not a substitute for in-home wireline service. That’s the headline conclusion from the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report. The report, approved on a semi-bipartisan 4 to 1 vote last week (republican Michael O’Rielly dissented), draws a hard distinction between wireline and mobile, in terms of speed, cost and functionality…

Consumers have advanced telecommunications capability only to the extent that they have access to both fixed and mobile broadband service. As they currently exist, fixed and mobile broadband services are not functional substitutes for one another, as some commenters suggest. Rather, as many commenters recognize, in today’s society, fixed and mobile broadband are both critically important services that provide different and complementary capabilities, and are tailored to serve different consumer needs…

It is true that, at a high level of generality, both services provide consumers with broadband Internet access service. As we have explained, however, significant differences in service capability and pricing prevent fixed and mobile broadband from being adequate substitutes for one another. Although fixed and mobile broadband sometimes provide overlapping functionality, this does not compel the conclusion that the two services are interchangeable for purposes of our Inquiry. Indeed, Americans with access to only one type of service are often unable to take advantage of the full range of functionality offered by advanced telecommunications capability.

The report reaffirms the FCC’s 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload speed benchmark for wireline service – the only pushback on that standard came from commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who said it should be 100 Mbps. Either way, it’s significantly higher, and significantly more realistic, than the California Public Utilities Commission’s 6 Mbps down/1.5 Mbps minimum.

No minimum was set for mobile service, though. The FCC thinks the question needs more study. But the benchmarks discussed in the report were generally in the 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps download range – further debunking any claims that mobile can do everything wireline can do.