Sources: FCC Sec. 706 Report Release Is Imminent

The FCC, which is expected to release its Sec. 706 report as early as Friday according to FCC and industry sources, is concluding that advanced telecommunications, fixed and wireless, are being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion and that wireless is part of that reasonable and timely employment, though as the FCC signaled not a full substitute.

Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel dissented from the report, calling the conclusion of that reasonably and timely deployment 'ridiculous and irresponsible." Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also voted against it.

There is a weekend Hill deadline for the report's release, according to one FCC source, though such deadlines are often honored as much in the breach as the observance. Last year's report was not issued at all, for example.

In its request for info on its latest (2018) Sec. 706 Broadband Deployment report, the FCC had asked, among other things, about whether it should keep the 25 Mbps high-speed broadband definition for advanced communications, tentatively concluding it should and asking whether mobile broadband was a substitute for fixed, suggesting, at least, that mobile was in the same conversation given technological improvements.

Critics of Pai's deregulatory bent saw it as paving the way to lowering the speed benchmark--and thus boosting the deployment percentage.

But in circulating a draft of the report to the other commissioners Jan. 18, Chairman Ajit Pai had signaled that the conclusion would indeed be to retain that 25 mbps, and also said that mobile broadband was still not a full substitute.

According to someone who has seen the final report, it does not set a speed benchmark for wireless saying that using a single speed benchmark is unworkable given the inherent variability--terrain issues, for example--and availability of data.

The report also says that the advanced communications deployment benchmark could be met by either fixed or mobile alone or a combination of the two.

The FCC is under a congressional directive to periodically assess deployment of advanced communications and is empowered to regulate in the event it finds that not to be the case, as was the finding of the report under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Democratic predecessors.

The FCC released the 2016 Sec. 706 report Notice of Inquiry in August 2016, but did not issue a report on the findings before FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler exited in January 2017.

Reports under Democratic chairmen had concluded that since advanced communications was not available to all, and since advanced communications availability was crucial in a digital age, it was not being reasonably deployed in a timely fashion, a conclusion broadband providers who had spent hundreds of billions in risk capital to reach over 90% of the country took, and take, issue with.

While the item had not been released at press time, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was not waiting to weigh in on her dissesnt from the report.

"There are also many facts in this Broadband Deployment Report, but what stands out most is a single finding.  his report concludes that in the United States the deployment of broadband to all Americans is reasonable and timely. This is ridiculous—and irresponsible."

"Today there are 24 million Americans without access to broadband.  There are 19 million Americans in rural areas who lack the ability to access high-speed services at home. There are 12 million school-aged children who are falling into the Homework Gap because they do not have the broadband at home they need for nightly schoolwork.  Ask any one of them if they think the deployment of the most essential digital age infrastructure is reasonable and timely and you will get a resounding 'No.'  To call these numbers a testament to our national success is insulting and not credible."

"To be sure, there are communications providers across the country that have done yeoman’s work to deploy more high-speed services in hard-to-reach places.  They deserve kudos for their effort. But it is premature for this agency to declare mission accomplished."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.