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FCC questions inclusion of wireless in redefinition of broadband

When the Federal Communications Commission begins its push for clearer authority over broadband services, one area of the fast-growing industry may not be included: wireless.

In its press release Thursday, the agency said it would begin an inquiry into FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposal to redefine broadband as telecommunications service, which is clearly under the agency’s oversight.

Though the agency also said it would seek comment as to whether wireless broadband services – the providers of Internet service for the iPhone, Blackberry and Droid – would be included in the controversial regulatory overhaul.

Free Press, a public interest group, raised concerns that mobile broadband services may not be included, saying consumers need protection from the FCC as more people access the Web on their mobile phones.

“All of the reasons that consumers need protection in the wired broadband market apply equally to wireless,” said Derek Turner, policy director at Free Press. “We are concerned that the FCC's own policy goals for broadband cannot be realized if wireless broadband is left by the wayside.”

The chairman’s staff, when announcing a proposal for reclassification, said they are still exploring if, how and to what extent wireless services should be included in broadband.

FCC general counsel, Austin Schlick, said in a blog post on May 6 that the agency has direct jurisdiction over mobile broadband under what is known as Title III of the Communications Act. But some analysts wonder if under that framework, the FCC could apply policies and programs such as the reform of the universal service fund subsidy to mobile broadband services.

Here are Schlick’s comments on the wireless question:

Aside from this statutory history, wireless broadband may be distinguishable from cable and telephone company broadband access services on account of differences in the technical and consumer aspects of wireless broadband service, as well as the Commission’s direct jurisdiction over licensing of wireless services under Title III of the Communications Act. On the other hand, telecommunications classification of a distinct transmission component within wireless broadband service might be essential to supporting deployment and wider adoption of wireless broadband under section 254.

Meanwhile, faster mobile Internet is on its way. Sprint Nextel will begin sales of its 4G EVO device starting June 4. And for your viewing pleasure: a leaked video that began on Engadget of an iPhone HD commercial (can't verify authenticity). Showing video chats, the commercial shows how mobile broadband is catching up with the home PC.

By Cecilia Kang  |  May 28, 2010; 9:34 AM ET
 
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