A proposal to treat mobile broadband as a substitute for wireline service will harm rural communities, two lawmakers warn the Federal Communications Commission.
"The proposed policy reversal would be an active step backwards in expanding broadband service to rural communities," Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) say in a letter sent Wednesday to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
"Without adequate service deployment and accurate data collection for both fixed and mobile, our rural and national economy will suffer," the lawmakers add. "Every American who has ever had to ask 'Can you hear me now?' while on their cell phone or has had to wait for buffering when streaming a video on a mobile device would attest that wireless is not as robust and reliable."
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, tweeted on Wednesday that she agreed with Van Hollen and Harris.
The lawmakers' comments come in response to an FCC notice soliciting public opinion for an upcoming report about the state of broadband deployment. In its notice, the FCC said it it may -- for the first time -- set benchmarks for mobile broadband service. The agency proposed defining mobile broadband as service at speeds of at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. Wireline broadband, by contrast, is currently defined as speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
Van Hollen and Harris add that the popularity of smartphones, and the recent increase in people who exclusively access the web through the devices, doesn't mean that wireless service is as stable or fast as wireline broadband.
"Consumers who rely upon their cell phones exclusively for internet access encounter numerous complications," the lawmakers write. "Americans who have limited access to fixed broadband have difficulty applying for jobs and filling out forms on their cell phones."
The lawmakers also say that telemedicine depends on stable broadband service. "Health breakthroughs allow patients to receive consultations close to home and are lifesaving for homebound patients," Van Hollen and Harris -- who is a physician -- write. "These advancements and the growing intersection between health and technology is not possible without stable, reliable, and fixed broadband."
Last year, a group of 45 lawmakers also weighed in against the FCC's proposal.
Advocacy groups including Public Knowledge and Next Century Cities recently launched a campaign against the proposal. Those groups' "Mobile Online Challenge" asks people to access the internet only on mobile devices for one day in January, and then post about their experiences on social media platforms.
"People need fast, robust internet connections for everyday tasks like applying for jobs, doing homework, or streaming videos," the advocacy groups write. They add that the proposed 10 Mbps standard would disproportionately affect "rural and low-income Americans who are hardest for broadband providers to reach."