Big ISPs Lobby To Kill Attempts At More Accurate Broadband Mapping

from the it's-not-a-problem-if-you-can't-see-it dept

For years, the FCC’s “Form 477” data collection program has required that ISPs provide data on where they provide broadband service. Said data then helps determine the pace of broadband deployment and level of competition in key markets, informing FCC policy and broadband subsidy application. Unfortunately, this data collection process relies heavily on census block data, which doesn’t always clarify which specific addresses in these large segments can actually get service. This has proven handy for ISPs looking to obfuscate their refusal to upgrade broadband networks in many areas.

This inaccurate data collection is a major reason for the Kafka-esque experience many new homeonwers have when they’re told their new home will have broadband service, only to discover it doesn’t. Last August, the then-Tom-Wheeler-run FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (pdf), seeking public input on changing the Form 477 program so it tracked individual addresses, providing a far more accurate picture of U.S. broadband deployment. At the time, the FCC admitted that it historically hasn’t done a good job ensuring this data matches reality, aka the “consumer experience”:

The Commission to date has not systematically examined the precise underlying methodologies that are used by service providers in generating their data nor has it investigated whether actual consumer experience has diverged substantially from the Form 477 filings. Moreover, providers? minimum advertised or expected speeds have, to date, been treated as confidential, limiting the ability of policymakers and consumers to compare offerings among service providers from this data collection.

In other words, the FCC was acknowledging that our broadband maps aren’t very accurate, and the FCC hasn’t done a very good job holding ISPs accountable for dubious availability data or flawed methodology.

Not too surprisingly, large ISPs have come out swinging against the previous FCC’s attempts to improve things. In a filing with the FCC (pdf), Verizon tried to argue that more accurate data collection would be an undue burden on the company:

The Commission should reject any proposals that would require fixed broadband providers to report deployment data below the census-block level. Such proposals would impose enormous costs on fixed broadband providers without providing any real benefit to the Commission or the public.

Verizon fails to document the “enormity” of having to do a modestly better job telling the FCC where it provides broadband, or the fact that a painful lack of competition in the sector — and the inability to determine how extensive the problem is — helps pad duopolist revenues. Similarly, the NCTA — the cable industry’s biggest lobbying group — cites ambiguous additional costs in opposing the improved mapping in its own filing (pdf):

…the Commission must ensure that the costs of any new broadband data collection requirements do not outweigh the benefits. With respect to the Form 477, the Commission should avoid collecting data that is so detailed or voluminous that it is expensive for providers to produce, difficult for the Commission to process, or unhelpful to the public.

Of course it’s not really the added costs that are worrying these providers. Better mapping means a more accurate picture of where these industry giants have refused to provide service or upgrade last-generation connections. That would be of considerable concern to Verizon, which has been under fire for years for taking taxpayer subsidies in exchange for fiber that never gets delivered, and for outright refusing to upgrade or repair millions of aging DSL lines it clearly no longer wants to service. Less accurate census-block data also makes it easier to obfuscate the overall lack of competition in the U.S. broadband industry.

Given the current FCC’s tendency to rubber stamp every whim of incumbent broadband providers, it seems more than likely that Ajit Pai and friends will scuttle this improved mapping effort proposed by the previous FCC. If you have a better understanding of the scope of a problem, you might then ponder actually doing something about it — and we certainly wouldn’t want that.

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Companies: ncta, verizon

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Comments on “Big ISPs Lobby To Kill Attempts At More Accurate Broadband Mapping”

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TheResidentSkeptic (profile) says:

If the facts get in the way...

…dispose of them immediately.

Since SpeedTest documented that “…The US ranks sixth in the world in the cost for mobile internet and 46th in mobile internet speed. In other words, people in the US aren’t getting what they’re paying for. …”, and Akami documents that the US is in 14th place (and dropping) for fixed line speeds, we have to pretend to be best at something… so let’s reduce our definition of broadband, use that as the basis to fake out the coverage maps and all will be fine. The more they force off landline and onto mobile, the higher the profits, and the larger the campaign contributions. And that is all that really matters to the companies and their (owned) regulators.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: If the facts get in the way...

There are a group of problems that sort of butt up against each other and cause the current problems in the US:

1 – the ISPs are mostly content providers / creators / distributors and the internet hurts their existing business

2 – there is little incentive (cost / benefit) for companies to fix the last mile.

3 – the costs for new players to come in and install the last mile on a full mandate (non cherry picked) basis is exorbitant and a very low return business

4 – technology is moving fast enough that any investment today must pay off quickly or be lost. Existing physical plants are still being paid off from the last round of upgrades.

5 – all of this could turn out to be meaningless the moment wireless last mile becomes viable and cost effecient

6 – the costs would be handed to consumers, who, facing already high costs would just have to pay a whole bunch more.

Google found out, it’s not a good business to be in. It’s expensive, there are cumbersome regulations, it’s hard to make a buck – and they were cherry picking to the maximum. You don’t see Google lining up to run fiber to rural, 1 ever 5 mile farm houses and little cluster villages. Yet, somehow, that is what is expected of the existing companies.

Remember too: it’s not just the cost of your personal last mile. It’s the cost of all of the downstream equiipment, network backhaul, and of course the amount of IP transit that has to be purchased to fulfill your service. With the short lifecycle of the equipment, standards, and standard accounting practices it would all have to be written off in a very short few years – which means it would have to go to your bill pretty much directly.

Remember too: Most ISPs are at this point on their fifth or sixth cycle of the internet equipment already. Changing the network to use Fiber would be a huge upgrade for them, they would literally have to replace every piece of equipment from end to end. It’s not cheap or easy.

Ask Google. They pretty much stopped investing because they figured out they couldn’t get reasonable return on their money, and it was actual hard work!

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: If the facts get in the way...

That being the case, let another company or entity pick up the slack instead of getting in the flippin’ way!

Nobody should have the right to block a municipality or any other entity from setting up the infrastructure required to bring broadband to communities. That these big companies do is where the problem lies. Fix that.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Add enormous costs?

Logic would dictate that ISP’s would have billing and installation addresses or they would not have been able to install service hardware or bill their customers for service. So the enormous cost is in taking a copy of those records and mapping them on one of the free mapping programs available? How simple would that algorithm be?

Or is the enormous cost in embarrassment when they have to publicly admit what a lousy job they are doing?

Or is the enormous cost in the additional infrastructure they will have to repair/install in order to make the maps produced look more like they should, without the holes in the ‘installed’ areas and the blanks in areas where promised installations have not taken place?

Maybe it would be simpler if they maps were on the state level, where one installation would mark a state as ‘installed’?

That these companies are not fighting for more customers is a contradiction that I cannot ken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Mapping

They have to have system maps to do any sort of network deployment and the necessary engineering, not to mention maintenance of said systems, even if poorly done.

They know exactly where they do provide service whenever it is time to send out bills.

They also know exactly where the don’t provide service when you call them after you’ve moved in, even if they don’t want to tell you when you call beforehand, and ask for thousands of dollars to extend from where they do have service to your new home.

The long and short of it is they could not reasonably be in business if they did not know where their damn systems were located.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Mapping

No, the long and short of it is they wouldn’t be in business if they weren’t lobbying state and national congressmen so hard to pass laws KEEPING them in business. They very often have NO IDEA where they can or cannot provide service until a tech goes out and checks. They usually default to telling people who call that yes, service is available, even when it isn’t.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Mapping

Yup, which means they are either lying through their teeth when they claim that providing that data would be impossibly expensive because they already have it, or those sites are providing false information when they claim to list what areas have service, something which might get them in a bit of hot water if it were to be confirmed.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“Such proposals would impose enormous costs”

You mean like when you get a sucker on the hook who was told you provide service to their address, but when they try to sign up you ask them to pay $15,000 to connect them to your lines?
You expect that customer to eat all the costs for you to expand your coverage that then you can add more people to.

Luckily you are making a killing on inaccurate meters, set top box monopoly, modem monopolies, billing errors that require the media to intervene to get solved… it shouldn’t be that much of a burden, perhaps cut the pay of your VP of customer service… he ain’t doing the job.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

ISPs are incompetent at mapping it

Story time, I think part of why the ISP’s don’t like this is because they’re so incompetent that their own internal maps are wrong.

Years ago the business I worked at wanted to upgrade to get Verizon FIOS. But we were told repeatedly that it wasn’t available in our area. This was despite the fact that:

  • Our next door neighbor, a dental office, already had FIOS.

  • We could clearly see the FIOS boxes outside of our window on the cable lines.

After some arguing with them over the phone we finally got them to send a technician out, to verify that their maps were wrong and we could get FIOS.

But the best part? A few years later we got a knock on our door from a Verizon salesman, asking us if we wanted to upgrade to the FIOS we already had!

So yes, despite them having several years to fix their maps, and being told by us that FIOS was available in the area, and despite the fact that we were paying for it, Verizon was incompetent enough to send a salesman to our door offering to sell it to us.

ECA (profile) says:

Lets see.....

How to Obfuscate..
Counting services that have little or NO coverage..
Just cause others MAY have hardware in an area, does NOT make it available.

What is competition?>
Satellite services? (games with a 5-8 second LAG)
CELLPHONES? that make promises that ARNT EQUAL..(go look at a Cell map and SHOW me all the HOLES in it)
Fiber optic lines IN THE AREA, which have no connections Anyplace near the location.(we have 3 running threw my area)

Copper lines GO THERE, so we have coverage..56k is fast enough..DSL is fast enough…

PTLD had a 6% coverage when the internet STARTED..Which means that 6% of the population USING the phones would(almost) overwhelm the system.. AND IF you PAID for ISDN…YOU WERE RICH. 8 lines combined to give you FAST service.

Corp mentality:
How little can I BUILD and CHARGE the most for the service..
1 phone pole will cost you $3000-10,000 PER POLE AND WIRE INSTALL…

PART of the problem is Overhauling the WHOLE system. THEY dont want to PAY for it. and the GOV. has already PAID 2 times to get the LAST MILE COVERED.
MOST services and companies ARE THE LAST MILE…all the stuff in the middle HAS BEEN done(mostly)./.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Lets see.....

The frustrating thing is that fiber is the solution no matter what: Right now companies use black fiber from the local wireless tower to connect with their local base. When small cell towers are used, you cannot be more than a mile away from the fiber optic cable since the towers wouldn’t cover the area in that case. Small cells are far cheaper to run than renting the costly old tower-sites. Barring a big revolution, the fiber optic cable is a necessity for the technology of the future, no matter what. It is just the case of deploying last mile, which should be trivial. It is not much of an investment and you get that much more connection security by having it (wireless can be disturbed by ie. Getting damaged or detached as well as certain geographic obstacles and weather can obstruct connection).

That One Guy (profile) says:

"So you don't know where you offer service? I'm sure the public would LOVE to know that."

Such proposals would impose enormous costs on fixed broadband providers without providing any real benefit to the Commission or the public.

With respect to the Form 477, the Commission should avoid collecting data that is so detailed or voluminous that it is expensive for providers to produce, difficult for the Commission to process, or unhelpful to the public.

Being able to pull up information as to whether or not they are able to offer service at a given location is kinda necessary for them to be able to tell people that might be moving there whether or not they can actually offer service, so either they are admitting that they regularly lie when it comes to that, or they are claiming that it would be prohibitively expensive to offer information they already have.

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