FCC Study: We Still Suck At Bringing Quality Broadband To All Americans

from the black-holes dept

The FCC is required by Congress to annually “determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” something the FCC’s latest broadband status report (pdf) suggests we’re still doing a relatively crappy job at.

According to the FCC, 34 million Americans, or roughly 10% of the country, “still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC?s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps for downloads, 3 Mbps for uploads.” Two thirds of the country still lacks the choice of more than one broadband provider at speeds of 25 Mbps, and 41% of schools have yet to hit the FCC’s goals of providing speeds of 100 Mbps to students. The FCC also notes the United States is 16th out of the top 34 developed countries when it comes to uniform broadband penetration, thanks in large part to our size.

As such, unsurprisingly, things are notably worse if you live in rural and/or tribal areas:

Keep in mind that most of this data is provided directly by the nation’s largest ISPs. Those ISPs have a vested interest in minimizing the appearance of any market failure, and by and large their coverage claims frequently aren’t fact-checked by regulators. That’s why, time and time again, consumers will be told that a broadband provider services their address, only to be told later (sometimes after a home sale) that their address cannot receive service. In other words, things are likely worse than the FCC data indicates. Either way, the FCC concludes:

“While the nation continues to make progress in broadband deployment, advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans”

Note that in typical FCC fashion, the FCC likes to focus on the digital divide (politically sexy), but can never be bothered to focus on how much broadband service costs thanks to limited competition (politically risky). Historically, ISPs provide pricing data to the FCC but, at industry behest, the agency refuses to make it public. So between suspect coverage and speed data and non-existent pricing data, neither the FCC’s reports nor our nation’s $300 million broadband coverage map provide (quite intentionally) quality insight into the real state of the broadband market.

Still, if the FCC concludes broadband isn’t being deployed in a “reasonable and timely fashion,” the FCC is required to act to correct said problem. And to the credit of current FCC boss Tom Wheeler, the agency has probably done more on this front than the last four FCC leaders combined. Wheeler led the charge to reclassify ISPs under Title II, pass new net neutrality rules, improve middle mile network funding, and redefine broadband as something 25 Mbps or faster.

Still, the biggest problem remains that ISPs won’t upgrade most of America because they simply don’t believe it’s profitable to do so. One solution to that is community broadband or public/private partnerships, but as we’ve covered at length, the same ISPs refusing to wire rural America have lobbied for protectionist laws that make sure nobody else can either. That’s why last year the FCC took aim at such state laws, and was immediately attacked (under the pretense of “states rights”) by mega-ISP loyal politicians for its trouble.

As with so many issues, Congress is so soaked with campaign contributions and lobbyist disinformation, fixing the broadband industry’s problems on the federal level remains a Sisyphean task. But there remains a smaller-scale solution to fix what ails our connectivity woes, and it starts with gutting protectionist state law — and emboldening the local, grassroot efforts to rise up against the status quo.

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Comments on “FCC Study: We Still Suck At Bringing Quality Broadband To All Americans”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

And to the credit of current FCC boss Tom Wheeler, the agency has probably done more on this front than the last four FCC leaders combined.

Not sure if it’s true or not, but I’d like to believe that a good deal of the credit on that front actually belongs John Oliver. Look at the timeline and you’ll see that the point at which Tom Wheeler began to take his job seriously sure seems to be marked by the words “I am not a dingo.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I bet you are right!

The FCC is corrupt, everyone fauned over their net neutrality shit when it was written to be nothing more than a pander to public opinion and they are still not really doing anything with it!

The FCC created the problems we now have and it seems to me that everyone never seems to remember or GET IT!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

And there is the crux of the problem with the discussion. Discussing pro-abortion and pro-life is counterproductive. Abortion is a well-established right. The question is how far the right should stretch, but in that discussion we cannot bury in the trenches and shoot meaningless proverbs at eachother.

I mean: This is a market dominated by:
High barriers (particularly startup funds), price makers (scarcity of the service is controlled by the seller ie. same owner of hardware and the service provided), some price maximising (find your own examples), some single seller markets (only one supplier) and some price discrimination (different prices in different markets).
All those are textbook signs of a monopolistic market.

The problems for bottom up competition are: Large initial investment, technological advantages of large scale, mostly monopoly on critical infrastructure, no substitute (while technologies vary, the infrastructure costs are one of the most limiting factors in all cases) and anti-competitive practices (Only the tip of the iceberg is covered by FCC).

Thus: If you don’t take those market imperfections into account, regulation/deregulation is not going to provide a more competitive market.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s a bit sad that these days comedians make more of an impression and produce greater results than the much vaunted Fourth Estate. One of my favorite sites is the Columbia Journalism Review, but The Daily Show and its offspring seem to run rings around those degreed professionals.

Granted that one side has to aspire to go by the rules of their profession and the other’s encouraged to break the rules by definition, but which is more efficacious? Ridiculing our rulers’ deeds is more powerful than exposing their deeds to the light of day, even when one looks very much like the other.

I think both should aspire to be more like Tom Paine.

Annonimus says:

You have a type-o

“Still, the biggest problem remains that ISPs won’t upgrade most of America because they simply don’t believe it’s profitable to do so.”

whoops that sentence is wrong. It should be: “Still, the biggest problem remains that ISPs won’t upgrade most of America because they simply don’t believe it’s profitable enough to do so.”

Haywood (profile) says:

Broadband that sucks

We live in a semi-rural area, with 80 year old copper lines, as our only option. The DSL coverage is spotty, particularly when it rains, the phone just goes away when it rains, For this glorious service, I pay just shy of $90 per month. The will came and go through the motions of fixing it when you report the outage, but next rain it will be back. We love having the internet, it is like having the keys to the greatest library in the world. The phone I could do without, but they won’t even sell me naked DSL.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Broadband that sucks

I had the same problem the last place I lived. Every time it rained, the connection would go out. You call, and three days (or four or five) later they come out WHEN IT’S NO LONGER RAINING and everything is of course fine. My problem finally got fixed one time they waited a WEEK to come, and it just happened to be raining when he showed up.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Broadband that sucks

The phone I could do without, but they won’t even sell me naked DSL.

When I asked the same of my old ISP, they said they could do it for a one time charge of $90 for DSL with no phone, and it’d take a session with their installer person showing up. So, it is possible, though they may not want to bother doing it. If you’re willing to pay, I’d wonder why they’d be reticent to do it.

This was in downtown, medium size city, Canada.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Broadband that sucks

We live in a semi-rural area, with 80 year old copper lines, as our only option. The DSL coverage is spotty, particularly when it rains, the phone just goes away when it rains,

I live in an urban area, and my option is cable (capped, though far less restrictive, but which keeps getting more and more expensive,) DSL (which isn’t broadband,) or expensive and capped cell coverage. Sure wish there was a little competition.

bcross52 (profile) says:

Broadband? What's that?

I’m with you Haywood. I live in a rural area but less than 12 miles line of sight from the state capitol building. I have access to one workable wireless ISP. They advertise 1.5 Mbps down but I’m lucky to get 700 Kps. My other available options are AT&T wireless or satellite. AT&T is also the landline provider and they are making zero investment so DSL is a fading dream.

25 Mbps???? I would love to just get a reliable 1.5!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Broadband? What's that?

I got lucky. My old house had copper so bad that DSL wasn’t really an option (even voice was sadly crackly). Then someone decided to turn an old nearby microwave tower into a cell tower. Right at that time, Verizon made the mistake of offering unlimited data for $30/mo. Got myself grandfathered into that plan, routed my computers thru it, and considered myself the luckiest SOB on the planet. But it was indeed a lucky break, not ISPs intentionally trying to get service out to rural areas.

New Mexico Mark says:

Another low bar

Keep in mind that “100 Mb/s to students” could mean that a school district serving multiple schools and thousands of nodes would have a 100 Mb/s Internet pipe shared among all those nodes. Yes, potentially any node *could* have 100Mb/s at any given time, but the effective rate per node during school hours can be truly awful.

Jam says:

Info restriction?

“…ISPs provide pricing data to the FCC but, at industry behest, the agency refuses to make it public.”

It seems the government is denying/restricting info to the detriment of public discourse. I think there’s certain Actions one could take to Free such Information. I don’t have the resources or know-how to pursue such Actions, but I encourage anyone who really wants the Dirt on internet costs to do so.

Whatever (profile) says:

Another interesting story, but one that almost entirely (but not quite) ignores the real issues of broadband in the US:

Population density.

Where there is enough population (urban) the US hits 96% of homes with at least one 25/3 offering. If you used only urban as the measurement, the US would be in the top 10, if not the top 5.

The problems lie in the rural. Americans want to live far outside the city, but expect city quality services to follow them. DSL (and even cable) have some pretty serious limitations when it comes to distance. So serving rural areas is pretty expensive, and the only way to recoup expenses would be in a very, very long run scenario. Consumers are unwilling (or unable) to pay what it would really cost to provide them the services.

These areas are unlikely to see great broadband services until there is a technology game changer, or the government will have to spend a whole lot of money to hook these people up. With fiber still costing in the thousands per mile and about $1000 per hookup, there isn’t enough income in the game to interest the incumbents into spending.

For me, the real solution will come when someone has a format that allows fiber to be run to these rural homes, and all companies being able to share the line to provide services – telephone, cable, internet, whatever… and to be able to have more than one company on the line at a time. Most of the muni-fiber solutions are internet only and turns being an ISP into a municipal service, which can only end badly. There has to be a better solution.

With too many Americans living away from urban centers, it’s unlikely you will see broadband penetration move very much in the next few years. It’s your own choices that are causing the problems…

klaus (profile) says:

Re: Except that...


The USA has an urban/rural demographic in-line with Western Europe, similar in urban density to Norway and Sweden, and indeed higher than Switzerland, all leaders in broadband deployment. If you applied your rationale across the board, the USA ranking would still be low.

I’m inclined to blame lack of investment and political will for the US position.

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