Friday, August 07, 2015

FCC inquiry could set stage to further reduce pressure on telcos, cablecos to deploy last mile infrastructure

Now that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission appears to be whiffing on enforcing Title II’s universal service and anti-redlining provisions relative to Internet service despite deeming Internet service a common carrier utility in a rulemaking earlier this year, it appears to be setting the stage to give big incumbent telephone and cable companies another potential pass on modernizing and building out their last mile infrastructures.

The FCC signaled that possible gambit this week in opening its annual review as required by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner.

In previous reviews, the FCC examined advanced telecom infrastructure providing both landline premise as well as mobile wireless and premise satellite service but opted to include only premise landline service in its determination, citing “significant concerns about the quality and reliability of the mobile and satellite service data” as well as factors including latency and usage allowances.

The 2015 review determined infrastructure deployment remained untimely as in previous reviews dating back nearly two decades and that 55 million Americans – 17 percent of the population – lack access to advanced telecommunications services capable of supporting high-quality voice, data, graphics and video.

For its next annual review, the FCC announced an inquiry this week seeking comment on whether mobile wireless and satellite should be included:

While fixed terrestrial broadband service can have advantages for high-capacity home use, mobile broadband has become increasingly important for many uses, including connecting on social media, navigating during travel, communicating with family and friends, receiving timely news updates, and more. In the event mobile broadband is added to the assessment, the FCC is seeking comment on what speed of service should serve as the benchmark for assessing availability. The FCC is also proposing to consider the availability of fixed satellite broadband in its annual assessment of fixed broadband availability.

Such a move could also pave the way for creating a benchmark lower than the new speed standard of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up established in the 2015 Section 706 review since this level of service is not offered by mobile wireless and satellite providers. That would make it easier for the FCC to declare advanced telecom infrastructure is in fact being timely deployed. Doing so would effectively sanction the deplorable status quo that has existed for many years where about one in five customer premises remain unable to obtain premise landline Internet service.

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