As part of a notice of inquiry (NOI) seeking public input for the FCC’s upcoming annual report to Congress on the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability, the FCC said it would examine the role of mobile broadband, and its relation to fixed broadband, in assessing the status of national broadband capability. The FCC cited “a number of factors indicating that mobile and fixed broadband appear to be different services in a number of respects under current technological and economic conditions, and that each currently appears best suited to serve different consumer needs.”

Issued last Friday, the NOI is expected to form the basis of the FCC’s eleventh annual report to Congress pursuant to Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which instructs the FCC to determine whether broadband services are being deployed to Americans in a reasonable and timely manner. Each of the previous Section 706 progress reports issued by the FCC have focused on fixed broadband deployment, and the FCC concluded in its tenth annual report last February that such deployment was not reasonable and timely as evidenced, in part, by findings that 55 million Americans lack access to broadband services of sufficient quality to support high speed data, graphics and video offerings.

Predicting, however, that the combination of newly available FCC Form 477 data with other data sources “will allow fuller consideration” of the role of mobile and satellite services in the U.S. broadband ecosystem, the NOI contends that, for future reports, “the Commission will be in a position to consider whether consumers need access to both fixed and mobile broadband in order to have access to advanced telecommunications capability.” According to the NOI, such data demonstrates that U.S. broadband subscribers are relying on both fixed and mobile broadband connections for different purposes. While many Americans use their fixed broadband connections “for high capacity” home uses that include online video streaming, the NOI maintains that these same users also rely heavily on their mobile broadband subscriptions for social media, travel navigation, news updates, and communications with family and friends.

Should the FCC decide to add mobile and satellite broadband services to the annual Section 706 assessment, the NOI requests comment on a proposal to establish a minimum speed threshold of 10 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream as the appropriate benchmark for assessing mobile broadband capability. The NOI also solicits input on whether other standards, such as service consistency and latency, should be factored into an assessment of mobile broadband capability. Comments are due by September 8, and the deadline for submitting reply comments is September 23.