Mobile isn't a replacement for wireline broadband, says FCC once again

9 February 2018 by Steve Blum
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The Federal Communications Commission is maintaining its hard distinction between fixed and mostly wireline, and mobile broadband service. In its 2018 Broadband Deployment report, the FCC reaffirmed that the two are complementary and not substitutes for each other…

We disagree with those that argue that mobile services are currently full substitutes for fixed service. Both fixed and mobile services can enable access to “information, entertainment, [and] employment options,” but there are salient differences between the two technologies. Beyond the most obvious distinction that mobile services permit their users mobility, there are clear variations in consumer preferences and demands for fixed and mobile services. Each clearly provides capabilities that satisfy the statutory definition of advanced telecommunications capability, and are important services that provide different functionalities, tailored to serve different consumer needs.

Not all commissioners concur with that disagreement. A vociferous dissent was posted by republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly. He made the amazing claim that people prefer slower, capped service…

Consumers, especially in the less affluent and younger populations, are willing to trade speed for flexibility…given the choice between gigabit speed wireline broadband and slower, data-capped wireless service, consumers that I have met with and providers deploying service in neighborhoods will make clear that the wireless service is preferable – by far.

The research that’s been done tells a different story, though. According to the latest survey by the California Emerging Technology Fund, 18% of Californian households are connected to the Internet by mobile services alone – not because it’s better, but because it’s what they can afford. The smartphone-only segment is heavily weighted toward households with incomes of $20,000 a year or less. When subsidised lifeline programs and free or very cheap phones are factored in, mobile service is significantly cheaper than buying a DSL subscription and a cheap computer.

Some people do choose to rely on mobile service alone, but when cost is not such an issue it’s a small proportion. In households with annual incomes greater than $100,000, 81% have fixed connections and get online via a computer, 10% have no in-home service at all and only 9% opt for mobile-only service. When people have a choice, they choose fixed service. By far.