FCC Stops Looking To Include Wireless Access In Broadband Definition

The FCC announced that it is no longer considering adding wireless internet access to its definition of broadband internet access.

The net neutrality issue has dominated FCC headlines for the 2017 holiday season, but the organization still has other involvements in steering U.S. internet infrastructure development. One of those goals, at least during the Obama administration, was expanding U.S. broadband internet access. In 2015, under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC voted to change the definition of “broadband” internet from a speed of 4/1 to 25/3 (down/up Mbps). The increase in speeds didn’t mandate ISPs to change their plans, but it did change what they could advertise as “broadband.” The goal was to drive ISPs who wanted to sell “broadband” plans to offer faster internet access.

The current FCC under Chairman Pai is, of course, a vastly different organization. In 2017, Pai proposed to lower the revised speed standards by merging “wireless” internet access into the definition of “broadband.” “Wireless” internet was defined as having a minimum speed of only 10/1 (down/up Mbps), so it is a significant step down from the speed of wired “broadband” internet. The move would have significantly increased U.S. broadband coverage, but only by lowering the standards of coverage–a hollow achievement for Pai’s goal of expanding broadband coverage in the rural U.S.

It seems the FCC is, at least, backtracking on that specific effort. In the press release for the draft 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, Pai said he plans to maintain the current 25/3 (down/up Mbps) definition for “broadband” and not merge “wireless” internet into that definition.

The draft report maintains the same benchmark speed for fixed broadband service previously adopted by the Commission: 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. The draft report also concludes that mobile broadband service is not a full substitute for fixed service.

As a result, the draft report evaluates progress in deploying fixed broadband service as well as progress in deploying mobile broadband service and takes a holistic approach to evaluating the deployment of these services.

The draft won’t be changing anything we know about the FCC’s broader stance, however. The FCC maintains that net neutrality regulations stifled broadband deployment. It also argues that its current policies are meeting its mandate to expand U.S. broadband internet access.

The draft report indicates that the pace of both fixed and mobile broadband deployment declined dramatically in the two years following the prior Commission’s Title II Order.However, the draft report also discussed how, over the course of the past year, the current Commission has taken steps to reduce barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition in the broadband marketplace. Taken together, these policies indicate that the current FCC is now meeting its statutory mandate to encourage the deployment of broadband on a reasonable and timely basis.

One of those policies will undoubtedly be Pai’s earlier-announced, but not detailed, proposal for a $500 million increase in funding for rural broadband deployment.