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Wheeler To Vet Status of Expanding Broadband Speed Testing To Mobile

The FCC released the sunshine notice for the first FCC meeting under the gavel of new chair Tom Wheeler (Nov. 14), and it differs somewhat from the tentative agenda announced two weeks go, although it still leads off with a vote on acting chair Mignon Clyburn's proposed loosening of foreign ownership limits on broadcast stations.

Gone is a vote on improving 911 reliability and an update on digital literacy public-privacy partnerships. In its place is a presentation on what is described as a new crowdsourcing app for testing the broadband speeds on Android smart phones, a move that would help expand the FCC's Measuring Broadband America broadband speed test platform to mobile broadband, something the FCC signaled last year it was doing.  The plan is to develop an iPhone ap as well.

The FCC launched the Measuring Broadband America initiative, which measures consumer's actual, compared to advertised, broadband speeds in 2011 in response to the FCC's National Broadband Plan recommendation to "obtain and publicly release detailed and accurate measurements of consumer broadband performance..."  Mobile has become a major focus of the Obama administration's broadband deployment push, given that sales of smartphones topped laptops a couple of years ago and tablets are predicted to do the same by year's end.

In Sept 2012, the commission announced it would be expanding its broadband speed and performance testing to wireless. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, as well as their principal trade association, CTIA, all agreed to participate in the test.

Also still on the meeting agenda is a status report on Universal Service Reform.

Currently, commission rules have a soft cap of 25% foreign ownership in a TV or radio station. That, however, has morphed into a de facto hard cap that cuts off a potential new source of capital infusion at a time when broadcasters could really use it.

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn circulated an item for the November meeting that would potentially allow greater foreign ownership of U.S. broadcast properties.

Back in April, the FCC voted unanimously to make it easier for wireless companies to access foreign capital, signaling it might be ready to do the same for broadcasters, as the Coalition for Broadcast Investment petitioned it to do.

Minority ownership advocates are on the same page, since the biggest impediment to boosting their business, they argue, is access to capital.

It may have been only a soft cap, but the commission has only issued one waiver of the 25% cap. That was to Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. purchased Metromedia stations in the mid-1980s but failed to inform the FCC it represented a 99% foreign-ownership purchase. Ten years later, the FCC retroactively granted the waiver.

As broadcasters have long pointed out, a similar restriction has not been placed on foreign investments in telcos, cable or satellite companies, or Internet video competitors.