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National Broadband Strategy Proponent has blindspot for mobile broadband

I was very surprised at the answer I got when I asked Bob Atkinson, the ITIF author of "Framing a National Broadband Policy" a question at the Alliance for Public Technology panel discussion last Friday on the topic of: "Framing a National Broadband Policy."

  • I asked why a national broadband policy should not have the goal of promoting broadband mobility in addition to promoting broadband speed. 
    • I noted that consumer demand and market forces were telling us quite clearly that ~240 million Americans value mobility -- so much so that Americans have more mobile connections than stationary connections and also use more mobile minutes than stationary minutes.  
  • Dr. Atkinson of ITIF, was quick to respond and held up his Treo-like wireless phone and said that people don't want to access the Internet from a device like the one in his hand and that mobile broadband was not a competitive substitute to stationary broadband but a competitive complement.
    • Interestingly, before I could chime in to ask if Dr. Atkinson had ever seen an AT&T-Apple iphone, or was aware that there are tens of millions of phones in use in the US that can access the Internet, two people from the audience and one panelist disagreed with Dr. Atkinson -- arguing that mobility indeed was important to people, especially younger people and people with disabilities.

Dr. Atkinson's dismissive answer that mobility does not matter in "framing National broadband policy" surprised me because I thought most everyone recognized that mobility was very important to the American consumer.

  • It seems Dr. Atkinson has the world view that if something is not a perfect substitute to stationary broadband it is not a competitive alternative. What most people understand is that people can want more than one thing at the same time -- they can value broadband speed and they can value broadband mobility too -- and that people are more than willing to forfeit some broadband speed if they can have the convenience of broadband mobility.
  • Dr. Atkinson's apparent either-or world view, analogously would not see that less reliable mobile phones can compete with stationary phones that have 99.999% reliability.
    • What's interesting is that over 10% of Americans have "cut the cord" and only have a mobile phone -- they see it as a competitive substitute in some instances.
  • Dr. Atkinson apparently does not also understand why companies would pay ~$20b at the current FCC 700 MHz auction to bring faster and better wireless broadband to more Americans all over America.

Bottomline: The real reason that proponents of a National Broadband Policy oppose considering mobile broadband (or satellite broadband) as "real" broadband, is that they want to regulate broadband heavily and that policy position is easier to justify if the market is a cable-telco duopoly and not a competitive broadband market with several choices in most markets.