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).
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.