FCC Finally Admits Its Broadband Penetration Numbers Are 'Stunningly Meaningless'

from the after-releasing-its-latest-report dept

For years, the FCC has been publishing numbers about broadband penetration in the US that were clearly bogus. They considered anything above 200kbps as broadband and did zip-code level comparisons. Thus, if one house in a zip code had access to broadband from a certain provider, the FCC assumed that every house in that zip code had access to broadband. As someone who lives in the heart of Silicon Valley and could not get DSL above 128k until a few months ago, I can point out how inaccurate that claim is. DSL is such a local technology that judging it on a zip-code-wide system is bound to be woefully inaccurate, even in heavily populated areas. Despite having the government condemn these bogus stats over and over again, the FCC kept releasing them... and it's done so again (pdf).

However, the good news is that it's finally admitting that its own numbers are bogus and changing the way it calculates broadband penetration. Why they're doing so right after releasing the latest report makes little sense -- but the FCC isn't known as being the most logically run organizations. In fact, it's so ridiculous to release bogus numbers after admitting that they're bogus, that two of the FCC's commissioners voted against releasing the report at all, with one calling it "stunningly meaningless."

The new methodology will consider 768kbps the cutoff for considering a connection as "broadband." It will also look at both up and downstream speeds, rather than just downstream. Finally, and most importantly, it will stop using the zip code system for determining penetration, but will require ISPs to report subscribers at the census-block level, which is much more fine-grained. This would present a much more accurate picture, so expect to hear ISPs complaining about the new methodology in 3... 2... 1....


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Gunnar, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 9:10am

    If 768 kbps upload is the cutoff for broadband, Comcast will no longer count. That is amusing.

     

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  2.  
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    SomeGuy, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 9:42am

    If 768 kbps upload is the cutoff for broadband, Comcast will no longer count.

    The article does seem to indicate that's what it'll be, but it doesn't say explicitly. Interesting.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 10:33am

    Re:

    I dont see any suggestion that the 768k refers to upload. Not only would that cut out comcast, but probably 90% of all actual broadband subscribers in the states. What are you guys smoking?

     

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  4.  
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    James (profile), Mar 20th, 2008 @ 10:42am

    Re:

    My Comcast is 9 mb down 2 mb up in northwest houston and no I am not counting the burts. If I did that it would be 15 mb down and 8 mb up.

     

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  5.  
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    SomeGuy, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re:

    Following the Methodology link in the article, there's a paragraph with the headliner of "Upload and download speeds will have to be reported in a more specific way." The paragraph itself just talked about how there will be 5 "tiers" of internet access now instead of just 2, and it doesn't break out how Upload and Download sppeds are to be considered, but in the breakout of the tiers, the one marked as "basic broadband" is listed as 768Kbps to 1.5Mbps. Like I said, it doesn't come out and say anything, but I'd take it as at least some suggestion that 768kb/s refers to upload. As you said, this WOULD cut out many current broadband services, which is why I think it's interesting (though admittedly not very likely).

     

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  6.  
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    DT, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 10:46am

    While the article doesn't actually specify, I'm pretty certain that 768k refers to the downstream speed.
    They are just now starting to look at upstream speeds - not using them as qualifiers as I understand it.

     

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  7.  
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    Matt, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 10:47am

    Re: Its the Download

    Its the download that has to be 768KBP/S but that would be funny if comcast no longer counted

     

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  8.  
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    Nick (profile), Mar 20th, 2008 @ 11:06am

    Listen to David Weinberger blast John Kneuer, the technology policy expert of the US Department of Commerce on broadband penetration rates/speeds/Network Neutrality at the Supernova conference as the crowd piles on!
    http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3361.html

     

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  9.  
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    R. H., Mar 20th, 2008 @ 11:12am

    Re: Re:

    My Comcast service (Flint, MI) is 6 mbps down and 384 kbps up. It bursts much higher to about 14 mbps down and 1 mbps up but I hope the FCC won't count bursting speed as top speed.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 11:31am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'd like to see them measure 'minimum' speed, or maybe 'average' speed since minimum would hose Cable internet...

     

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  11.  
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    ?Saygin, Mar 20th, 2008 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Re:

    I actually think that's part of the larger point. The U.S. service providers' offerings barely are acceptable when compared to the rest of the world. If 90% of them are cut out of the picture, so be it. However, I think the 768 will be at least one way. The major change is that the FCC is now looking at two-way traffic, rather than just download speeds.

     

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  12.  
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    rawwhide, Mar 2nd, 2009 @ 4:59pm

    actual speeds

    "They(FCC) considered anything above 200kbps as broadband and did zip-code level comparisons." This is download. The new speed talked about of 768kbps is also download. Before the changes anything over 200kbps download was considered broadband. The most misleading of all though was the fact that the FCC counted all of a zip code as having broadband coverage, even if only one person in that zip had a speed over 200kbps.

     

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