Mobile-only and wireline broadband divide is about poverty, not usability

14 August 2017 by Steve Blum
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Some people only have mobile broadband service, so that must be all they need. That’s the core argument that the Federal Communications Commission poses in its inquiry – and request for public comment – on what is the proper definition of advanced broadband services.

Right now the standard is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. Sporadic spurts and bursts aside, mobile broadband service doesn’t come anywhere near that level. So the FCC is considering lowering the benchmark and declaring mobile service that runs at 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds is as capable of supporting advanced services as wireline broadband that hits the 25/3 mark.

That’s nonsense on the face of it, and it completely falls apart when real people in the real world are considered. FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn says the premise is false

We seek comment on whether to deem an area as “served” if mobile or fixed service is available. I am extremely skeptical of this line of inquiry. Consumers who are mobile only often find themselves in such a position, not by choice but because they cannot afford a fixed connection. Today, mobile and fixed broadband are complements, not substitutes. They are very different in terms of both the nuts and bolts of how the networks operate, and how they are marketed to customers, including both from the perspective of speed and data usage. I have heard from too many consumers who can only afford a mobile connection, and even then they have to drop service in the middle of the month because they cannot afford to pay for more data.

Even the 25/3 standard is too low, Clyburn says, noting that it “would not even allow for a single stream of 1080p video conferencing, much less 4K video conferencing”.

That’s what advanced services are supposed to be about. There’s nothing advanced about reading email or watching low-quality video or sharing a photo. Standards for the future shouldn’t be based on what was possible 20 years ago.