During a speech at the National Press Club last week, FCC Chairman Wheeler laid out a roadmap for how the U.S. can be the global leader in the next generation of wireless technology, 5G. The speech highlighted several steps the Commission intends to take over the coming months to pave the way for this new era of connectivity.
But one proceeding that the FCC is currently pursuing – the FCC’s Further Notice on Business Data Service (BDS) – could in fact backfire and slow the deployment of 5G if the Commission stays on its current course. 5G networks will rely on substantially more cell sites than prior generations of wireless service and, as a result, there will be a need for significant new fiber facilities to provide backhaul connecting these cell sites. The BDS Further Notice seeks comment on a number of proposals that could result in extensive new rate regulation of BDS services, including backhaul, resulting in less, not more, deployment of fiber.
On Tuesday, NCTA will be filing comments explaining the deep concerns that we have with key elements of the Further Notice. We are particularly concerned with the suggestion that the Commission should abandon the streamlined regulatory approach that has applied to facilities-based competitors (in this case, cable operators and competitive LECs) for the last four decades and begin to regulate the rates charged by those providers. We’ve noted these concerns in previous posts and our comments will explain in detail why regulating competitive providers is both unnecessary and harmful to the goal of 5G deployment.
The arguments being made in support of this radical policy shift are puzzling. For example, the other day the advocacy group Public Knowledge explained that “the Commission’s approach should be technology neutral to adequately address threats to competition from both incumbent and competitive BDS providers, as well as cable BDS providers.” Got that? The federal government should regulate the rates charged by “competitive BDS providers” because those companies are somehow a “threat to competition.” Does that make any sense at all? How exactly is competition threatened by companies investing billions of dollars in new facilities to compete with incumbents like AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink?