Exploring The Connected Nation Boondoggle

from the sneaky,-sneaky dept

Last year, we discussed whether or not Connected Nation broadband mapping group, was really just a big telco boondoggle designed to get gov’t money and allow telcos to avoid really providing broadband data. For some reason, politicians are absolutely in love with Connected Nation, though. When I was in Washington DC recently, they talked about it like it was the solution to our country’s broadband needs. That seems quite bizarre no matter how you look at it. First, it’s just a “mapping” organization and it’s run by the telcos themselves, allowing them to continue to fudge the data to make markets look a lot more competitive than they really are. And, yet, thanks to all the political love that goes out to Connected Nation, it looks like they’re about to get hundreds of millions of dollars in broadband stimulus money.

Broadband Reports points us to Art Brodsky’s “final warning” about Connected Nation, before we hand over tons of tax money to it, and it’s not pretty. He notes the ridiculousness of politicians complaining that the gov’t agency in charge of getting accurate maps has failed (solely because the telcos refuse to give them the data) and deciding the best “response” to this is to simply hand the whole project (and lots of money) over to the telcos who refused to give the data up in the first place:

The fruit is not the product of the state agency, however. Faison used his announcement to criticize e-NC: “Until now, we have not had a map showing street address availability of broadband. e-NC has generated maps based on information disclosed by the providers which are based on the average number of customers with broadband access in a wire center. Unfortunately, information provided in this fashion does not allow you to see where broadband is and where it is not, it does not allow you to see the holes in the Swiss cheese, and depending on the area the hole may be larger than the cheese.”

Note the circular logic here. Faison and other members of his committee are criticizing e-NC for their maps, which were based on information supplied, or not, as it were, by the telecom industry. The state agency has been hampered by AT&T’s unwillingness to supply broadband data and its insistence on a very restrictive non-disclosure agreement for information the company did supply.

Instead of pushing the industry to stop stonewalling e-NC, Faison and the others trashed e-NC’s work and commended the work of ? AT&T, the very company that hamstrung e-NC. Here is Faison?s praise for the industry: “In the face of legislation recommended by the Committee which would have required the providers to disclose precise information to the Legislature for our staff to generate a detailed map of availability, the providers have come together and collectively decided to provide the information through Connected Nation, to not only provide the “street address” map but also to make the map both accessible and interactive through the internet. Special recognition should be given to AT&T, Embarq, Sprint, Time Warner Cable, The Cable Association, the Telephone Co-op association, and Alltel for their work on this matter.”

Brodsky goes on to show a Connected Nation map, and note how useless it is in actually giving granular data, and then compares it to another group’s map, with much greater detail. I certainly agree that better data is important, but I have to admit I’m still somewhat confused as to what real problem we end up solving with mapping alone? Yes, it will give us more data to figure out just what the current situation is when it comes to broadband deployment, but that’s got little to do with actually improving our broadband infrastructure.

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Comments on “Exploring The Connected Nation Boondoggle”

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Karl Bode says:

“I’m still somewhat confused as to what real problem we end up solving with mapping alone?”

It’s really not about mapping alone. Mapping is the first step in a massive new effort. We’re about to spend $7 billion on grants, and possibly billions more on a broader national strategy that will be unveiled next year.

Included in that initial $7 billion is $300 million for broadband mapping, most of which is set to go to this incumbent-crafted group.

On this group’s board of directors sits an endless list of the biggest names in telecom lobbying, who’ve spent a decade pretending the sector is ultra-competitive and broadband penetration is just fine.

It’s not a stretch to worry about the quality of data these gentlemen will be pumping out. With bad data, who knows how effective any stimulus would be?

jsl4980 (profile) says:

My attempt to over simplify

I’m not a web developer so I’m positive that I’m going to over simplify this, but why can’t “someone” make a website where users can plot their location on a map and show what broadband providers they have available in their area? A grassroots effort could provide a decent representation of the competition available across the country. I know some people will make mistakes or lie, but if you get enough people to participate then you should be able to get a pretty accurate map. Any reasons why this can’t be done? I hear a lot of complaining on blogs about Connected Nation, but no action to fix anything.

Karl says:

“I’m not a web developer so I’m positive that I’m going to over simplify this, but why can’t “someone” make a website where users can plot their location on a map and show what broadband providers they have available in their area?”

They can, and some (like BroadbandCensus.com) ARE trying to fix this. But relying on user data isn’t enough. You need data from carriers, who refuse to hand it over.

There’s a slew of more accurate state-level mapping organizations who do a very good job using user data. The problem is Connected Nation was created, I believe in part, to ensure these operations never see the light of day.

Karl says:

“The name Connected Nation polls well – so politicians love it, what it is or does is irrelevent.”

In part. But when your board of directors is stocked with some of the biggest lobbying names in telecom, I’m sure it’s not particularly hard to get politicians to support your endeavor, even if it was called “Donkey Molester.” Particularly on the State level, where the group got its start as “Connect Kentucky,” proudly proclaiming they miraculously managed to wire more than 98% of the state with broadband (which is total nonsense).

art (profile) says:

broadband mapping

The mapping issue is part of the larger picture. To the extent that accurate data is needed to construct a more comprehensive policy, think of it as a building block for more infrastructure.

If the data supplied by a group with the telephone company and cable company interests at heart presents a misleading picture, then not only will the policy be flawed, but all of that public money will have been wasted.

Anonymous of Course says:

The boondoggle continues

Of course the telcoms don’t want accurate maps.

The last $200 billion the government handed out to
improve fiber connectivity resulted in untold miles
of dark fiber. Much of the money was spent upgrading
existing service to compete in high population density
areas, which of course is most profitable. In rural
areas fiber was laid but the CO’s never upgraded. So
they can say the fiber is there and omit the fact that
it’s still useless over a decade later.

The debate over should the government subsidize rural
areas misses the point. The money was spent with a
specific objective. It was no misunderstanding. The
telcoms took the money then didn’t deliver the goods.

I expect more of the same.

Steve says:

Monopoly through Obscurity

Having worked on many aspects of a major internet provider’s data (GIS & CAD), I know for a fact that the providers have very granular data all the way down to the “last mile” and “street address” information in a neat little database that could EASILY be transferred to Connected Nation. This is obviously a power play by the MSOs (multi-service orgs) to keep their monopoly stake in the field by hiding the piss-poor state of broadband in America.

I’m half tempted to dig up the data and send it in myself… but NDAs and big companies are nothing to trifle with

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