Cell phones as a substitute for home Internet service? That’s what the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) suggested in an August 2017 document. Buried within the Notice of Inquiry for the Section 706 Report, the FCC quietly proposed that mobile service could be considered broadband deployment.
In a recent article, Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica dove into why that suggestion is laughable. Mobile Internet service, especially at speeds less than 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload, is not equivalent to high-speed home Internet service.
This proposal also raises concerns for rural communities exploring funding options.
Overstating Rural Connectivity Has Consequences
If the FCC treats mobile Internet access as broadband deployment, rural areas will suddenly look better connected. On paper, the FCC statistics will show that rural America has sufficient Internet access, but the reality in the trenches will remain as it is today - poor connectivity in many rural communities.
A similar situation has already happened in Iowa, where the inclusion of satellite Internet service is now considered broadband access. The interactive FCC 2016 Broadband Deployment Map clearly shows that almost all of Iowa has high-speed Internet access via satellite. One can use satellite service to browse the web, but it has significant limitations, especially when uploading data.
[Screenshot from August 2017 of FCC June 2016 Deployment Data of Iowa: Yellow = 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Internet access. Full map here.]
Despite the near-universal coverage shown by the FCC, rural communities in Iowa are still building fiber networks because they consider themselves lacking the connectivity they need to compete. In Iowa, it’s important to make sure that the agriculture community gets the high-speed connections they need for the newest technologies. In June 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided $6.5 million in funding to Coon Valley Cooperative Telephone Association. These communities, municipalities, and cooperatives recognize that satellite service is not equal to high-quality connectivity regardless of what the FCC believes, and they choose to plan for the future.
With incorrect statistics from the FCC the grossly overstate coverage, communities will find it even harder to obtain loans and grants, especially from entities like the USDA.
Share Your Thoughts
Since February 1999, the FCC has consistently released broadband progress reports on whether the U.S. is getting broadband access in a timely manner. The reports take into account the comments of the public and the state of Internet service. This is your opportunity to let the FCC know how you feel.
Through the Notice of Inquiry, the public has an invitation to submit comments on this proposal (17-199) by September 7, 2017 for the 2018 Broadband Progress Report. You can submit a comment directly from the left sidebar on this page.
Reply comments will be due about two weeks later on September 22, 2017.