Wheeler: BDS Reform Key to Universal Wireless Coverage

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pitched business data services reform as necessary to universal wireless coverage.

That came Tuesday, Sept. 20 in a speech to the Competitive Carriers Association.

Wheeler reiterated that he planned to vote on his reform proposal by the end of the year, though many, including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are looking for it as soon as next month, or, as Sen. Claire McCaskill put it, ASAP.

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Wheeler said that backhaul was a key component of fostering infrastructure competition, and that a key to backhaul was access.

"If there is going to be universal wireless coverage, there needs to be fair access to backhaul," he said. "In many areas, competition in the supply of backhaul remains limited, and that can translate into higher costs for wireless networks, higher prices for consumers, and an adverse impact on competition."

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He said that lack of competition "cannot be used to hold back wireless coverage."

"Notably, reform is supported by the nation’s leading wireless carriers, save one," he said, a reference to AT&T, which has joined with ISPs to push back on the FCC proposal, which is based in a compromise offered up by INCOMPAS and Verizon.

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FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn echoed the importance of backhaul at the convention as well.

"Backhaul is a significant part of wireless providers’ bottom line, and I have heard numbers as high as 30% of operating expenditures devoted to backhaul by mobile providers," she said (Wheeler cited the figure as well.) "In too many areas, the incumbent LEC is the only provider offering backhaul. That can mean gross market power, inflated prices, and bad deal terms. We are working to fix that, so stay tuned. The Chairman has promised reform by the end of this year, and this issue is one that I will continue to engage on."

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.