General

Over at Mobile Future, Jonathan Spalter looks at the future of wireless and finds that as mobile video consumption contines to boom, fiber-based networks will become more and more critical. As he writes:

[A] Cisco report predicts that in five years, 85 percent of Internet consumption in the United States will be from video, primarily over mobile devices. While freeing up more spectrum is critical to meet the demand for mobile Internet and video services, wireless infrastructure also requires backhaul networks with sufficient capacity to deliver these bits between a wireless tower and the Internet backbone.

Deploying that fiber-based infrastructure will take a substantial amount of investment, and as Spalter points out, regulators have — so far — encouraged that investment:

The FCC in 2007 and 2008 decided to forbear from regulating the Ethernet services companies like AT&T and CenturyLink provide, and it predicted competition would increase even further without heavy-handed regulation. Through its Enterprise Broadband Orders the FCC expressly concluded that the market for packet-switched broadband services was “highly competitive” and recognized that the demand for such services was sufficient to incentivize deployment and entry by competitors absent regulation.

As Spalter notes, competition for Ethernet-based special access services has “skyrocketed” since the FCC’s Enterprise Broadband Order. But that hasn’t stopped some companies from urging the FCC to wield a heavier regulatory hammer. Spalter again:

[F]or all of their complaining that the government needs to intervene in the market and lower just their costs of doing business (a refrain these carriers bring to the spectrum set aside and roaming debates as well), national carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as smaller regional ones have managed to operate their networks and succeed in the marketplace over the past decade without greater government involvement, often as the low cost provider. There is no justification to increase regulation of legacy special access services when the backhaul marketplace is functioning perfectly well on its own, producing remarkable investment, a stream of new competitors and increasing consumer value.

Put another way, what companies like Sprint and T-Mobile are seeking is a form of corporate welfare; a bailout from the government that will only ding their competitors. It’s not exactly the spirit of competition, but you can’t really blame them for trying.

But unfortunately, as Spalter notes, the FCC may be listening to the unfounded complaints:

Competition in the special access market has flourished due to the bipartisan hands-off approach taken by Chairmen of both parties for over a decade. It defies logic for the FCC to continue spending so much energy attempting to regulate legacy services like DS1 and DS3 special access connections provided by incumbent carriers. The Commission should accept the success of its deregulatory approach in which unregulated entities have stepped up, as expected, to create a highly competitive special access market.

If we want to encourage more fiber deployment — and keep our wireless economy humming — let’s hope the FCC is listening to sensible arguments from the likes of Spalter rather than the unfounded complaints of a few companies.