Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why the FCC Should Adopt CalSPEED, Part 1

The FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report quotes a number of data sources to answer what I’ll call the Big Policy Question posed in section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – namely, whether “advanced telecommunications capability” is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. Unfortunately, the FCC's mobile data falls short in helping answer that question. I’ll demonstrate how and show why the FCC should adopt the CPUC’s mobile testing methodology.

First, though, we need to address the following questions regarding the data:

1.      What is the speed that consumers are getting compared to what is advertised?

2.      Is speed the only consideration?

3.      Should the basis of analysis be households or people?

Question 1 - the FCC has shown through its Measuring Broadband America reports that actual speeds are pretty close if not higher than advertised speeds for wireline technologies. For mobile, the answer is not so simple. However, the CPUC’s mobile testing program has produced mountains of data on availability and variability for California, and we find that actual speeds and performance vary greatly depending on whether you are in urban, rural, or tribal areas.

Question 2 - the FCC has considered other metrics such as latency and variability, but for now has excluded them from the definition of “advanced telecommunications capability” because of lack of data. Nevertheless, data from the CPUC’s mobile testing program has allowed us to create “heat maps” predicting coverage for varying service levels – E-mail, Voice over IP, streaming video, and video conferencing.

Question 3 is rhetorical. Mobile networks serve people. Sometimes, people are inside their homes, and other times they are on the move. Hence, mobile deployment and availability needs to focus on where people go, not where they are when they sleep at night.

So, how effective is the data used by the FCC in answering the Big Policy Question? In Part 2, I will summarize the pros and cons of the CPUC’s mobile field test data as well as those for three mobile data sets referenced by the FCC on their web site and in the 2016 Broadband Progress Report.

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