Comments filed with the FCC on the pace of U.S. broadband deployment pursuant to Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act highlight the disagreements between major network operators, who insist that broadband is being deployed in a “reasonable and timely” fashion, and competitive carriers and consumer advocates who argue that the goals of Section 706 are not being met. Various other parties, meanwhile, urged the FCC to establish minimum speed benchmarks for wireless broadband not only as a method of measuring mobile broadband performance but also as a means of ensuring that wireless subscribers can stream video in the same or comparable picture quality they receive from providers of multichannel video or broadcast services.
In a Notice of Inquiry issued last month, the FCC requested stakeholder input on the agency’s upcoming twelfth report to Congress on the status of broadband deployment and capability throughout the U.S. Noting that ten percent of Americans lack access to wireline broadband services at benchmark speeds of 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps downstream which were adopted by the FCC last year, the agency decreed in its eleventh report last January that the goals of Section 706 were not being met. The FCC also concluded that, because mobile and fixed services are complimentary, the U.S. population must have equal access to both mobile and fixed broadband services for the Section 706 requirement of “reasonable and timely” deployment to be satisfied.
Calling on the FCC to reverse the negative findings of the eleventh report, wireless association CTIA argued that, “not only is mobile broadband deployment in the U.S. reasonable and timely, but it leads the world.” In support of that claim, CTIA pointed to the FCC’s own statistical data demonstrating that “99.6% of Americans had access to 4G LTE service from at least one provider as of July 2015.” Echoing CTIA, Mobile Future asserted that “the extremely rapid deployment and widespread availability of mobile broadband, with nearly the entire United States population now covered by multiple 4G LTE networks, leaves no question that mobile broadband is being deployed . . . in a reasonable and timely fashion.”
The U.S. Telecom Association, meanwhile, advocated for a shift in the FCC’s focus from the percentage of Americans who have access to broadband at a given speed to “the actual overall deployment progress made from year to year,” lamenting that previous Section 706 assessments that have resulted in negative findings “[ignore] the crux of what the Commission should be measuring.” U.S. Cellular maintained, however, that, “if the Commission makes an honest assessment of the state of mobile broadband in rural areas . . . it should conclude that mobile broadband network are not being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner.” While declaring that such an assessment will help the FCC to “incent carriers to close the ‘digital divide’ that currently exists in rural America,” U.S. Cellular also endorsed the adoption of a 10 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream mobile broadband speed benchmark, which “[reflects] current consumer preferences.” Stressing that “watching television shows and movies over the Internet is no longer a novelty,” Netflix recommended the definition of mobile broadband capability at the 10 Mbps/1 Mbps threshold, as it urged the FCC to “evaluate the effects that broadband caps have on the deployment of advanced telecommunications.”