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#MobileOnly Movement Targets FCC's Broadband Plans

Carol Wilson
1/4/2018
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A grassroots campaign is taking off to combat a new proposal at the Federal Communications Commission to redefine broadband using slower, more expensive cellular data services. The Mobile Only Challenge movement is asking people to use only their mobile devices for an entire day of Internet access in January and then share those experiences on social media, in advance of a Feb. 3 vote, using the hashtag #MobileOnly.

Analysts and rural broadband advocates have been warning for months now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under Ajit Pai wants to weaken the definition of broadband established under former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler at 25 Megabits per second downstream and 4 Mbit/s downstream by allowing 10 Mbit/s-1 Mbit/s wireless broadband services to suffice. Such a move would alleviate the need for further action by the FCC to get broadband coverage to rural areas that are more expensive to reach with high-speed services.

CCG Consulting and DSL Reports are both saying the vote will take place on Feb. 3, as part of this year's report to Congress on the state of broadband in the US. It was in just such a report back in 2015 that the Wheeler FCC changed the definition of broadband to 25Meg/4Meg, putting a greater onus on broadband service providers to invest to get better connectivity to rural areas. By counting cellular data speeds at 10Meg/1Meg as a broadband substitute, the current FCC could then report much better broadband coverage without requiring further investment by network operators at all.

"That is a significant change, because by law, the FCC is mandated to work towards bringing broadband to any parts of the US that don’t have it," notes CCG analyst Doug Dawson . "In effect, by a definition change the FCC will have done away with a lot of the digital divide. And if they lower the definition of landline broadband they will categorize even more homes as having adequate broadband."

The problem is that cellular data is much less reliably measured and, when consumed in quantity, much more expensive, notes Dawson. Service providers can say they are providing 10Meg/1Meg service based on what a cellular tower is transmitting, but what a consumer receives may be very different. In addition, the FCC is not including an estimate of affordability, nor taking into account latency issues with cellular service.


Want to know more about gigabit strategies? Check out our dedicated gigabit content channel here on Light Reading.


A group of opponents to the FCC proposal, led by Public Knowledge , Next Century Cities and others, is hoping to use the "Mobile Only Challenge" to build a grassroots effort to oppose the FCC.

"Rural, minority, and lower-income communities, which often face the most challenges relating to broadband, would be harmed the most from an FCC determination about the availability of broadband that is at odds with reality," said John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, in a statement last fall. "In a world where communities are crying out for help to participate in modern society, an agency tasked with acting in the public interest should not take a step backward that will make it more difficult for communities with deficient broadband to get the help they need."

For his part, Pai has long held that mobile Internet service was enough, as Ars Technica noted here. As a new FCC commissioner, he criticized his colleagues for not considering "all broadband services meeting the statutory definition regardless of the technologies used to deploy them."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/9/2018 | 4:27:26 PM
Re: Rural Areas
Dennis,

Just live in an IOC property.  They likely have Gigabit service. A large telco rural property...not so much.

seven
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/9/2018 | 2:27:40 PM
Re: Rural Areas
I'm told that there are many many benefits to living in a rural area. "True broadband" may not be one of those benefits.
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/9/2018 | 1:06:18 PM
Re: Rural Areas
@Vernon,

That "loophole" is not a loophole.  It was the point of the law.  Lots of Rural Broadband has been done under USF and CAF funding.  The issue has generally been the other way around.  The money comes with some strings attached.  The large telcos have not generally wanted to deal with those strings.

seven

 
Carol Wilson
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Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
1/9/2018 | 12:25:53 PM
Re: Rural Areas
I have no doubt that those who actually live in rural areas could tell those of us who don't a lot. My question would be the quality of LTE coverage in many rural areas and whether it delivers a true broadband experience. I also think that settling for wireless coverage because it's better than the existing wired options is just that, settling. 
VernonDozier
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VernonDozier,
User Rank: Moderator
1/4/2018 | 5:50:47 PM
Ajit Pai- master of new definitions of words.
Imagine if only 150 people over 1,000 square mile area could watch the Super Bowl. That’s the type of policy Ajit is creating. The biggest problem with changing definitions of “broadband” is that cellular providers, with millions of customers today, can advertise having broadband over network sales that are already deployed; and also have millions of customers. The problem however, for cellular, is that they ALL use existing infrastructure to deliver existing services, including emergency services, city and county-wide communications. All cellular providers also utilize “network management techniques” which are actually designed to limit customer “use” (often carefully worded as “abuse”). Caps and throttling on physical wire to the home doesn’t have. It all comes down to usable bandwidth on a square-mile basis. If you have 10,000 users, you create strings on the rateplans that limit 9,000 people from using service a the same time. LTE Services being tested in the lab are able to provide Gigabit speeds when a LTE device can connect to 4 or 5 cell antennas. This type of speed may Ben useful if seen in metro areas, but in rural areas where potential POPs and populations themselves don’t justify expenses, one cell structure may be purpose-built to cover 1200 square miles of land. If carriers sign up 200 new people in that area, those networks can easily be overloaded to not facilitate the advertised services customers want and desire. Until LTE (and Wireline) can provide service without any throttling or data caps at all and can compete toe-to-toe with wireline, Ajit’s proposals merely serve to benefit larger carriers in an effort to advertise service that doesn’t scale.. Ajit seems to forget that when AT&T and DIRECTV launched streaming services (DIRECTV Now), it was Verizon customers that often complained that the service didn’t work. However, the actual problem was Verizon’s wireline network and a lack of peering agreements to meet demand. Furthermore, as a part of Connect America Funding, FCC carved out a loophole. I learned that CenturyLink was allowed to accept FCC CAF funding but instead of upgrading DSLAM equipment for DSL in rural areas, CenturyLink was allowed to accept funding and also “offset” investment in rural areas. This was likely accomplished to meet certain “number of customer” metrics as reported to Congress. This loophole made the CAF program appear more successful than it actually was. Broadband with a 20GB cap or even a 50GB cap isn’t really broadband at all. Downgrading quality of video streams doeant compete with wireline either. But Ajit is an lawyer; and I don’t expect him to understand economic concepts such as supply and demand, or market researcher that shows people will want to stream 4K TV similar to broadcast TV. Allowing national carriers to advertise “broadband” in rural pushes rural wireless providers out of a business that invest into networks instead of national advertising budgets. When the networks can’t deliver services that a “traditional“ broadband network can, including HD and 4K Video, customers become confused, call to complain, and finally, an increase in operational expense occurs in hiring call center employees to re-educate customers on what “Broadband” service actually is. All that occurs in leu of the original policy goal of investing into network infrastructure that is able to scale.
Art King
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Art King,
User Rank: Lightning
1/4/2018 | 3:49:30 PM
Rural Areas
For those that don't experience it, terrestrial services in rural areas are usually slower than LTE. I have to switch on my LTE hotspot in the afternoon due to Netflix, YouTube and Gaming swamping my ISPs backhaul (local loop is plenty fast). The economics to increase backhaul don't work because the cost can't really be passed on in low density areas. I think there are activists clamoring for things that don't actually represent on-the-ground conditions or their thinking is one size fits all with no nuance.  
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