FCC Broadband Availability Data Derided As Inaccurate, 'Shameful'

from the rose-colored-glasses dept

We’ve long-noted how the government doesn’t do a very good job tracking broadband availability and pricing, in large part because incumbent ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T don’t want them to. ISPs (and the lawmakers paid to love them) whined incessantly about the last FCC’s efforts to raise the standard definition of broadband, given it only highlighted the fact that two-thirds of Americans can’t get “broadband” (25 Mbps) from more than one ISP. ISPs also fight revealing pricing data, which is why our $300 million broadband availability map doesn’t contain any price data whatsoever.

ISPs have also routinely lobbied against efforts to improve broadband availability mapping, since more clearly highlighting competition and deployment shortcomings might result in somebody actually doing something about it. As a result, government reports on the health of the clearly-dysfunctional U.S. broadband market tend to have a decidedly unrealistic and rosy timbre, which is often worse if the regulators in question are of the revolving door variety (as we’re currently seeing under current agency boss Ajit Pai).

And while Pai is busy insisting that he’s all about transparency, hard economics, and “closing the digital divide,” his policies repeatedly and consistently undermine those claims.

Case in point: folks in West Virginia have complained about particularly awful broadband for years. The state is the poster child for what horrible broadband (and the corruption that helps protect it) looks like. Verizon neglected the state’s infrastructure for years, then offloaded its unwanted DSL customers to Frontier Communications, who not only bungled the acquisition, but has been caught repeatedly ripping off taxpayers thanks to regulatory apathy. The end result has been millions of state residents who either can’t get broadband at all, or are forced to pay an arm and a leg for sub 3 Mbps DSL straight from 1999.

So when a recent FCC broadband availability report tried to claim the state was awash in broadband availability, the people who actually live there were understandably annoyed:

“Numbers in a federal report about West Virginians who have access to broadband internet services are ?not even close to being correct,? the chairman of the state?s broadband council said Thursday. The Federal Communications Commission released the report last week. It claims, among other things, that seven West Virginia counties have 100-percent access to a fixed broadband connection.

“To me, this goes beyond having inaccuracies,? Hinton said. ?It?s just disappointing. That?s all it is. At what point next year are they going to say West Virginia has 100 percent coverage?” “It?s shameful,? Hinton said. ?It?s just disappointing that moving forward, this is the kind of data that will dictate where we can invest infrastructure dollars.”

Again, this kind of errant data isn’t a mistake, it’s intentional. ISPs spend millions of dollars annually to ensure broadband availability and pricing data isn’t particularly accurate. And while they claim providing more accurate data than currently obligated under the form 477 process would be expensive and “burdensome,” the reality is they don’t want anybody pointing out that these companies enjoy vast last-mile monopolies across huge swaths of the country. And, thanks to many telcos refusing to upgrade aging DSL lines the problem is getting notably worse in many areas.

Again, were government mapping efforts to provide a more accurate understanding of competition and deployment shortcomings, it might result in somebody pushing policies that actually do something about it, and we most certainly wouldn’t want that.

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Comments on “FCC Broadband Availability Data Derided As Inaccurate, 'Shameful'”

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69 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

“At what point next year are they going to say West Virginia has 100 percent coverage?”

In another news Ajit Pai proudly announces the US has reached 137,3% of broadband coverage. Later Pai was seen with a giant mug stuck to his head singing the non-lexical vocable version of the song “I am very glad, as I’m finally returning back home” from Eduard Khil, sources confirm he put it on voluntarily after West Virginian pointed out it’s mathematically impossible to serve over 100% of the population.

An Onymous Coward (profile) says:

So what can we, the public, do about it? Clearly our feedback to the FCC is little more than a tempest in a teapot. Do we need to vote out anyone with an R by their name in November? How do we encourage more Ron Wydens to take up political careers?

There ought to be stronger and quicker blow-back for politicians who fail to properly represent their constituency. Something more effective than the elections themselves. The general populous is too dumb to vote anything but their party line. Maybe we need to do away with the party system and make everyone run on their own platform. Do away with lobbyists, too. And retract citizenship for corporations. Now how to accomplish that?

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Take it from someone who’s voted third party for 30+ years – voting third party isn’t about putting anyone on notice, because less than 1% of the vote never does that. It’s actually about having the high ground when laughing at the major parties and their supporters. We are the ONLY ones allowed to complain and say ‘I told you so.’

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

It would be nice if we stopped pissing money away on programs we’ll see undermined by well placed ‘donations’.

It’s expensive and burdensome to have to deal with trying to find out what level of suck service you might be able to get, especially when we have wasted money on a pointless map & even calling and confirming 5 times your address is serviced they say oops & then want 10K to connect you.

Decades and billions of dollars… we still haven’t connected everyone… if only there was the political will to put the public good over corporate greed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Decades and billions of dollars… we still haven’t connected everyone”

Or connected them properly. I can walk through my neighborhood and see Comcast’s cable laying side by side with Verizon’s fiber sheaths.

WHY can I see them? Because they’re laying on top the ground. No, they’re not in the process of deploying them: they “finished” that a year ago. They’re on top the ground because the subcontractors they sent to tear up our lawns and bury these managed to do the former, but not the latter.

So yes, we have a couple of broadband options now, and yes, we’re one lawnmower blade away from a multi-residence outage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There are no poles here to suspend from. So what they did instead, and I should have mentioned this, is send out their subcontractor to trench fiber sheaths so that they could come back later and pull fiber through them, then light it and start pushing us all to FIOS.

The subcontractors were imbec…no, that’s much too kind. Imbeciles would have only cut our existing Comcast cable in one place, not three. And having cut ours, and our neighbor’s, and their neighbor’s, they would have perhaps changed their approach so as not to cut more.

Then it got worse.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I have to admit...

I live in a town in Spain half the size of Yorkshire’s Halifax town, and I get 300Mb fibre optic, which in the year or so I’ve had it has definitely delivered the promised speed for the most part. That’s up from the 10-30Mb ADSL that was the maximum available in the area a few years back, so that’s what effective infrastructure investment will get you. I actually remember times when I was jealous of the advertised speeds available first in the US then the UK, but no more.

Anyway, the usual shower of fools will be in here to tell you shortly that you should be deathly afraid of regulation and hand everything unquestioned over to the corporate monopolies, for whatever reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I have to admit...

“Anyway, the usual shower of fools will be in here to tell you shortly that you should be deathly afraid of regulation and hand everything unquestioned over to the corporate monopolies, for whatever reason.”

Hey fellas, look here, another “my way is right” and “everyone else is a fool” internet comment today!

PaulT, you are the walking embodiment of everything you claim to hate. The corporations have monopolies because they are given to them by their government and economic policies. If they did not want monopolies they would not have them.

You don’t even live in the US, why do you keep running your mouth about things you know nothing about?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I have to admit...

Read some “Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith. One of his main points regarding traders is that they will collude if you let them. It is the natural way of business to seek money no matter the implications.

A monopoly as you describe may be at the acceptance of government, but the fundamental problem is the predisposition for a business to evolve around gaining advantages irregardless of how much it cause others to suffer. Not governing is also a way to govern, but by never steering the market you are also letting the fundamentally psychopathic companies do as they will. As much as Ie. mayors may be irresponsible, it is usually easier for the average american to leverage an opinion there than if you have to be a major stockholder to change the ships course.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I have to admit...

“Hey fellas, look here, another “my way is right” and “everyone else is a fool” internet comment today!”

Not everybody, just our resident anti-regulation liar. How did I know you’d turn up with distorted attacks?

“The corporations have monopolies because they are given to them by their government and economic policies.”

Not in my country, the one I keep offering as an example. But, you can’t handle real life examples that prove you wrong, so you attack a strawman version of me instead.

“If they did not want monopolies they would not have them.”

Who are “they”? The corporations you demand your country hand everything over to certainly want the monopolies, so I’ll interpret your poorly constructed sentence to mean that it’s them. Not the regulators, who successfully dismantle monopolies in countries where effective regulation is allowed.

“You don’t even live in the US, why do you keep running your mouth about things you know nothing about?”

Because until your corporations stop you from being able to access the world equally, I have the same right to offer my opinion as you do. I know plenty, by the way, it’s not my fault you can’t take criticism.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I have to admit...

I’m moderately certain that that poorly-constructed sentence was meant to convey "if the regulators didn’t want the monopolies to exist, the monopolies would not exist", with the intended implication that "therefore the regulators do want the monopolies to exist" and subsequently "therefore any attempt to get those same regulators to save you from the monopolies is hopelessly misguided".

And if we limit the scope of discourse to the US market, and the regulators which have sway there (since AFAIK there is no single regulatory body, or set thereof, which has sway across the entirety of all Internet-service markets), I can kind of see the point. I think it’s still ignoring important relevant facts, in a way somewhat analogous to how rejecting entropy because life on Earth grows more complex ignores the energy input Earth receives from the Sun (i.e., ignoring the closed-system/open-system dichotomy), but to someone who doesn’t accept those facts – as the person we’re presumably dealing with clearly does not – it would be a reasonable position to take.

In that view, your comment about "the regulators who successfully dismantle monopolies in countries where effective regulation is allowed" would be flying wide of the point; the very fact that regulators in non-US markets have reined in monopolies would imply that those regulators do not want the monopolies to exist, but he’s complaining about the ones in US markets, which – by his logic – do want the monopolies to exist.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 I have to admit...

I forgot to add: clearly, the way to deal with that (even accepting his premise) is to put in regulators who do want to remove or rein in the monopolies, but he either doesn’t think that that’s possible or doesn’t trust that those regulators won’t be replaced by monopoly-supporting ones again later on.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 I have to admit...

Well, that’s where the global view comes in. If it’s been both possible and effective elsewhere, why not in the US? It might be harder due to the way things have transpired over recent decades, but it’s false to say that it cannot work.

The bottom line is that this guy loves to come in whine about regulation inevitably creating monopoly, but the opposite happens elsewhere. His vaguely hinted at “solutions” never would achieve anything other than giving those same monopolies complete control over the market and his opposition to government regulation seems rooted in the idea that the corruption see in the current US system is inevitable.

That’s why I keep poking at him with examples where things have worked out elsewhere in the world. He gets annoyed at me because my real world examples undermine his wild claims, but I keep showing them to him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: services

1 “We’ve long-noted how the government doesn’t do a very good job tracking broadband availability and pricing,” 2

Why should the government be tracking any commercial services availability and pricing?

What about household plumbing services, piano teachers, and shoe sellers? Should not the government track those closely too?

What’s the ideological imperative in play here?

Are you satisfied with the very high priced services sold to you by American government? Who tracks the prices/availability/quality of FCC and other government services?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: services

Why should the government be tracking any commercial services availability and pricing?

Certain services are classified as “utilities” are are legally required to be provided to everyone within a certain area. Postal service and telephone service fall in this category. Plumbing is generally regulated by the state or local authorities. Water, gas, and electricity service are regulated and tracked by multiple levels. In many places, it is illegal to have the water or heat shut off without very specific conditions being met.

> What about household plumbing services,

Are you talking about plumbers’ work, which needs to meet code and potentially be inspected by appropriate authorities? Or are you talking about water service to a residence, which is often legally required for a building to be “habitable”?

> piano teachers, and shoe sellers? Should not the government track those closely too?

If there is a valid reason for it, maybe. The government could easily have an interest in monitoring the prevalence of grocery stores, given how they are required for food-assistance programs and the impact that food quality and availability can have on health of the population.

> What’s the ideological imperative in play here?

Sometimes public infrastructure benefits the public sufficiently that the government has an interest in ensure it is done to a minimum standard.

> Are you satisfied with the very high priced services sold to you by American government?

Not entirely relevant, but are you American?

What services do you think are too expensive?

Everyone I’ve ever met with municipal broadband has been extremely happy with the price/value ratio, as well as the customer service. Public transportation is a net gain to the economic activity of a city, despite the costs of running it. Government management of healthcare worldwide generally provides better outcomes and lower costs than what we currently have in the US.

> Who tracks the prices/availability/quality of FCC and other government services?

The Government Accountability Office, if you are interested in federal agencies.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: services

“> What about household plumbing services,

Are you talking about plumbers’ work, which needs to meet code and potentially be inspected by appropriate authorities? Or are you talking about water service to a residence, which is often legally required for a building to be “habitable”?”

That was where I started giggling. He either thinks that plumbing service are totally unregulated, or that people would be better off if they were? Wow.

If he’s just talking about pricing, the answer is of course “so private contractors don’t rip off consumers”, which is a decent aim in a market where people will regularly do such things if left unsupervised. Also, I don’t know about the US but other services like the ones he described are usually covered by some kind of government watchdog or ombudsman elsewhere to take complaints even if they’re not actively monitoring a specific market.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: services

Because, in general, the government largely subsidizes the commercial availability of broadband and other telecommunications services. The ideological imperative is that if we consider Broadband valuable enough to subsidize construction in an effort to increase deployment, that we should be tracking the deployments to ensure those public funds are being used to actually accomplish that.

Unless your claim is that we shouldn’t be verifying that government subsidies are used for the purpose they are given for?

TMC says:

Satellite

I could be remembering this wrong, but wasn’t the mechanism for justifying this the inclusion of ‘broadband’ satellite coverage? Yeah, I’m not fucking surprised broadband coverage looks great when you include multi-second-latency satellite connections. I guess the tail 4% of broadband unavailability was for people that don’t have access to line of sight with the fucking sky?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem with speedtest.net is that it’s voluntary, meaning you have to go run the test yourself for it to get data. Companies and professional IT use it a lot for network troubleshooting and diagnostics so they’re data, while useful in some cases, is skewed higher than it should be.

From what I’ve seen, their average US internet speed states it’s 75 Mbps, that is far higher than what the actual average is. If everyone in the US ran it on a regular basis, it would be a lot lower and more accurate. To compare, Akamai’s average US internet speed is closer to 18 – 20 Mbps, if I remember correctly.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, the problem with speedtest.net is that the average person knows their service/speed sucks and don’t need a site to tell them that. Before I moved when I had 1.5Mbps DSL, I NEVER bothered with a speed test site. Why would I?

The majority of people checking their speed have Mbps in the hundreds, or a gigabit connection, and want to verify they’re actually getting what they paid for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m one of those people with DSL, but I have to plan my work around weather: on windy days, it flakes out constantly. And I have no idea why, given that the copper is all underground. (Yes, I know where the wires are, I know where the CO is, and I’ve walked the path the entire way to verify that.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That’s interesting. I used to have a client who had local DSL and they had the exact same problem. In fact, it was so bad that we had the ISP come out and check the lines and they told us the very same thing, that the DSL service can be affected by wind.

I assumed it was because their DSL lines were run above grounds on poles but now I wonder if that wasn’t the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I thought the same thing — that is, that part of the run must be up on poles. But it’s not. And I’ve had Verizon out to check the pair: they said it was fine, with just a little bit of crosstalk from here all the way to the junction box about 1/3 of a mile away. They switched me to another pair with less noise. No change in the symptoms, though.

Switched out the modem/router to another one (same model): no change. Switched out the modem/route to another one (different model): no change. Kept track of time-of-day for incidents: no pattern. Noted snow/thaw and rainfall events: no correlation. It really seems to come down to wind, but for the life of me, I haven’t been able to postulate a mechanism that explains why.

So mostly I just swear a lot when it happens and hit the reset button.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is a repost from the prior comment:

*The problem with speedtest.net is that it’s voluntary, meaning you have to go run the test yourself for it to get data. Companies and professional IT use it a lot for network troubleshooting and diagnostics so they’re data, while useful in some cases, is skewed higher than it should be.

From what I’ve seen, their average US internet speed states it’s 75 Mbps, that is far higher than what the actual average is. If everyone in the US ran it on a regular basis, it would be a lot lower and more accurate. To compare, Akamai’s average US internet speed is closer to 18 – 20 Mbps, if I remember correctly.*

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

any company who puts profits above the American people to such a scale should be charged with, at the very least, sedition. Trump keeps saying “America First”, then let him put his money where his mouth is. Put “AMERICA First” and not “Profits First”.

If we are going to deride Twitter and Facebook and Huawei for not respecting Americans, then we sure as hell should hold AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to the same standards.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Regardless of the ‘/s’, there is some truth in your statement. The thing that is missing is ‘only if it is taxed, and that tax is actually paid’. America First has a tendency to promote the profit and tax avoidance at the same time. What’s a little contradiction. What’s a little debt?

Oh, and this is a bipartisan point of view, though one could argue that one party is more egregious in their actions than the other.

ECA (profile) says:

who remembers..

Those CELLPHONE MAPS that covered everything/..but didnt REALLY work very well in your area..Even after the map Showing you were FULLY covered by every corp..
I live near a freeway Bend, and there are 4 LARGE antenna setups within a few miles..
DO YOU THINK I HAVE 4 BARS…NOPE.

Years ago in this small town. Every time the wind passed 40mph, the power would go out. I returned after 20 years, and ITS STILL NOT FIXED.. Sent a Dirty Email to the PUC, asking HOW in hell this is still a problem, as I have seen the POWER LINES over the Columbia NEVER have a problem(average wind in the Columbia Gorge is 40+)..

if it costs so much TO DO THIS WORK…Millions looking for work. MOSt of those “DOING the work of maintaining the lines are paid $15-20 per hour(the Corp writes them off at $40 per hour)

The Old phone system, that the GOV. Broke up, keeps breaking into Smaller pieces and Shuffling around. Trying to keep up with “WHO OWNS WHOM”, is getting as bad as finding the Ace of Spades, in 52 pickup with all the Cards Face down.. The Gov, cant even figure it out.(OR THE IRS)..

The CURRENT corps, did NOT lay the first lines, YEARS AGO.. The updates to the systems, tended to be from PREVIOUS small companies(mostly), and the BIG corps trying to take over, DONT WANT TO FIX ANYTHING..except to raise prices.

Stupid part.
This is only about LAST MILE, inside cities.. For all the money being SPENT it could have been updated. But for every penny, you are PAYING the corps, it goes to Lawyers, Judges, and Corruption..(like millions of FAKE emails)

REPAIR is almost easy, as the Poles are installed by the Electric corp, and these folks just attach to the lines. Poles dont get damaged much, until someone RUNS INTO THEM..Some have been up 20-40 years.
Underground lines, IF UPDATED OVER THE YEARS…SHOULD BE in Plastic/metal housings, and Fairly EASY to replace..(IF IT WAS DONE RIGHT)..
Good luck folks..its going to be a Fight.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Where is all this fake news coming from?

What’s fake about it? What are the alternative sources? What are their credentials? Why bring Russia up, unless you’re just used to your own sources being accused of that and have no better counter-argument?

Funny how that sort of information gets left out of people’s posts. At least the people who coined the phrase bothered to supply facts in response. Now? Presumed right-wingers parroting back catchphrases as if the phrases alone counter something.

Come on, stop the team politics and tell people what’s wrong.

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