U.S. senate looks at mobile broadband service standard for rural areas

27 May 2018 by Steve Blum
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The Federal Communications Commission will set a national mobile broadband speed standard by running tests in the 20 largest metro areas in the U.S., if a bill that’s heading toward a full vote by the U.S. senate makes it into law. The goal is to establish a benchmark for judging whether or not there’s adequate mobile broadband service in rural communities.

Although the language is vague, the bill’s intent appears to be to use that new standard to decide where federal broadband subsidies will go.

The U.S. senate commerce, science and transportation committee approved senate bill 2418 last week, after its primary author, senator Maggie Hassan (D – New Hampshire), added language that requires the FCC to report back to congress every six months, on progress made toward ensuring…

Mobile broadband service available in rural areas is reasonably comparable to mobile broadband service provided in urban areas…

A rural area shall be considered underserved, with respect to mobile broadband service, if tests show that the average speed and signal strength of mobile broadband service available in the area do not meet or exceed the average speed and signal strength of mobile broadband service provided in the 20 most populous metropolitan statistical areas in the United States.

There is some uneasiness about the bill. The FCC’s minimum level for “advances services” capability is 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. That applies to any type of broadband, wireline or wireless. The fear is that creating a mobile broadband standard based on urban service levels will water down that standard.

Anything is possible, but the FCC still uses 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up as a minimum standard for subsidised rural service. There’s already a gap between what the FCC considers good enough for rural communities and what’s necessary for full access to the online world. And the FCC doesn’t reckon mobile broadband to be a substitute for high speed, fixed service. Maintaining the distinction between mobile and wireline service is good policy. So is upping the game for mobile users.