FCC’s Clyburn Stresses ‘The Importance of Backhaul’

Mobile data traffic has grown 18-fold over the past five years and was projected to increase seven-fold between 2016 and 2021. That’s why the FCC is focused on maintaining a flexible spectrum policy to meet this growing need in wireless broadband. So said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to the spring meeting of the WTA, Advocates for Rural Broadband, in Hilton Head, SC on Monday.

The strategy includes making spectrum available in low, mid, and high frequency bands, with flexible rules. The incentive auction will free up 84 megahertz of valuable low-band spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use; Last year the Commission established rules for the 3.5 GHz mid-band spectrum and nearly 11 gigahertz of high-band spectrum available for licensed and unlicensed use.

“In rural communities, we may see the technology used as ‘wireless fiber,’ to bring down the costs of last mile deployment, and it will positively impact many industries such as agriculture and telehealth. But with all of the focus on 5G, we must not lose sight of the fact that in many places, there are citizens eagerly awaiting 4G, or even 3G,” said Clyburn. 

She also discussed the importance of backhaul, calling it “a significant part of any rural company’s bottom line. I have heard numbers as high as 30 percent of operating expenditures devoted to backhaul by mobile providers. In too many areas, the incumbent LEC is the only game in town. That can mean extreme market power, inflated prices, and bad deal terms.” While the Commission’s Business Data Services proceeding has not yet borne fruit, the Commissioner said she’s “deeply committed” to finding a way to address these issues.

Universal Service Fund dollars should be deployed more efficiently, she believes, noting costs the agency has seen some carriers include in the rate base, like artwork, corporate jets, corporate boats and the mortgages of company employees. The USF should not be paying for these, said Clyburn, adding the FCC needs to action its Notice concerning USF reform. “Excluding these costs would further free up additional dollars, to ease the budget controls, that I know some of you are acutely feeling.”

Addressing her now changed status at the Commission, going from a commissioner that was part of the majority party to her new role as the sole Democrat on the three-person FCC, Clyburn said she always begins at the 50-yard line when it comes to formulating policy with anyone who may see the world differently, but that does not mean compromising her principles. “Removing consumer protections and harming competition, are always going to be non-starters for me, but I will continue to sit at the table, even when we are discussing issues that have practical impacts, that may make me uncomfortable.”

March 14, 2017   

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