The FCC's 'New' Broadband Availability Map Hallucinates Broadband Competition

from the rose-colored-glasses dept

A few years back the FCC (under Obama’s first FCC boss Julius Genachowski) spent around $300 million on a broadband availability map that did a crap job actually measuring broadband availability. As we noted at the time, the map tended to hallucinate both available competitors and the speeds they could deliver to any address, providing a completely bogus sense of the nation’s competitive options. It also failed utterly to include pricing data at ISP behest, lest somebody actually look at the data and realize that a lack of competition drives high prices and abysmal customer service from coast to coast.

After efforts to further fund the inaccurate map stalled (you can find the old map sitting unused here), Ajit Pai’s FCC this week stated they’ve dusted off and relaunched the map as part of Pai’s purported dedication to the digital divide (the new version is available here for your perusal). An FCC press release (pdf) said the new map offers better data at a lower price than the original:

“As it works to close the digital divide, the Federal Communications Commission has updated and modernized its National Broadband Map so the map can once again be a key source of broadband deployment information for consumers, policymakers, researchers, and others. The new, cloud-based map will support more frequent data updates and display improvements at a far lower cost than the original mapping platform, which had not been updated in years.”

The FCC also took to Twitter to insist this new map will be the cornerstone of his office’s noble quest to close the digital divide:

Except the “new” map appears to be a half-hearted reboot that shares all the problems of the original map. Were you to actually use the map to determine where coverage caps exist, you’d walk away thinking there is no digital divide. In that sense, the map is doing the exact opposite of what the FCC is claiming.

Both the old and new iterations of the map all-but hallucinate available options out of whole cloth while vastly over-stating the speeds available to American consumers. That’s because it relies on ISP data provided the FCC via the Form 477 process; data that’s routinely taken at face value without any real independent analysis or confirmation by objective third parties. Data provided by companies with a vested interest in actively hiding deployment and competitive shortcomings for what should be obvious reasons. The same ISPs that lobby relentlessly to kill efforts at more accurate mapping.

For example, I can only get access to one ISP (Comcast) at my residence in Seattle, purportedly one of the nation’s technology leaders. Yet the FCC’s new map informs me I have seven broadband options available to me. Two of these options, CenturyLink DSL and CenturyLink fiber are somehow counted twice despite neither actually being available. Three others are satellite broadband service whose high prices, high latency and low caps make them unsuitable as a real broadband option. The seventh is a fixed-wireless option that doesn’t actually serve my address:

Again, only one of those is actually available or can be considered broadband, and it’s being delivered by a company with arguably the worst customer satisfaction and service scores of any company in America. Four of them don’t even meet the FCC’s own definition of broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up). Looking at the world through rose-colored ISP glasses isn’t “closing the digital divide.” In fact the perpetuation of inaccurate data makes the problem worse by convincing the public it’s not a real problem at all.

Of course if you’ve watched Ajit Pai repeatedly proclaim his breathless dedication to closing the digital divide while dismantling broadband programs for the poor this probably isn’t too surprising. Nor is it surprising if you’re familiar with Pai’s attempts to distort, twist, and manipulate data until the nation’s broadband competition issues magically disappear. After all, if the data clearly shows that American broadband is expensive and patchy due to limited competition among regional mono/duopolies with a stranglehold over state and federal lawmakers, somebody might just get the crazy idea to actually do something about it.

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Comments on “The FCC's 'New' Broadband Availability Map Hallucinates Broadband Competition”

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Hating all regulation because… regulation is just dim-witted.”

Your comment is ignorant on its face, I also hate all killing, but still see the need to kill mass murders.

Just because I hate regulation does not mean I will turn down all regulation. Which is another bad intellectual dishonesty many of you posit. I am okay with some regulations, just not okay with all the dumb and stupid ones many of you support.

Furthermore I was just pointing out that it is clear that regulation is not saving us from the monopolies despite the fact that the common theme is to ask for regulation to save people from them. Ergo, when people make “monopoly” comments in a pro-regulatory position are usually signs of ignorance or a self inflicted political mental disease.

So to be clear…
“There is good regulation and there is bad regulation.”

Wrong.

There is only bad regulation, but some regulation is necessary because no matter how bad it is, it is still better than letting a monopoly or one of its many market controlling forms. If the regulations are letting monopolies form, they are not service a benefit to the people we often claim to install regulation to protect.

If regulations can be good, why don’t we give your the neighbor you hate regulatory power over some of your things… because that is what has already occurred. Pai is your neighbor and he is a fucking tool with regulatory power over things. People keep forgetting that people working in government are you neighbors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The type of regulation you support doesn’t exist because it isn’t based in reality and would never work except in an ideal society where everyone played by the rules.

You’re also wrong about good/bad regulation. Or are you going to sit there and say that laws saying you can’t kill someone in cold blood are bad? Because, you know, that’s regulation.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

There is only bad regulation, but some regulation is necessary because no matter how bad it is, it is still better than letting a monopoly or one of its many market controlling forms. If the regulations are letting monopolies form, they are not service a benefit to the people we often claim to install regulation to protect.

See… now this is why everyone gets so frustrated with you. THIS is exactly the reason why we explained net neutrality regulation makes sense…

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20171210/01533638775/free-market-argument-net-neutrality.shtml

In that I explained how this was an example of market forces failing, creating dominant firms.

And your response was to call me an idiot who was incapable of understanding things and who always demands regulations.

People get annoyed with you not because you’re telling some great truths that we’re too stupid to understand, but because you’re spewing nonsense and insisting that only you are smart enough to understand, while being totally unwilling to listen to people who actually understand stuff.

Chip says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

There are only “Bad” Regulations! My “Doctor” said so!

Sure, he doesn’t have a “Medical license”. Or a “doctorate”. But he has what Really Matters: a Tenth Grade “education” and two copies of The Fountainhead that he boorwoded from the Libary before the Leftist Sycophants told him Hey You can’t watch “horse Porn” in here and “kicked” him Out.

Who is the “Government” to Tell me who Is and “isn’t” a Doctor? Let the Free Market “decide”!

Every Nation eats the Paint chips it Sesdves!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I figured out how to navigate to my area without typing in an address. It wasn’t worth it.

It lists Comcast (correct) and Verizon DSL (correct, although they’re ripping it out). It doesn’t list Verizon FIOS.

It lists three satellite providers that don’t provide service here. (I know. I called them and asked weeks ago.)

So out of a total of five entries, three are wrong and one is missing.

Oh, and 3M down on Verizon ADSL? HahahahahahahahHAHAHAHAHA.

No.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Really bad

I thought satellite was not supposed to be counted along with wireless for broadband? Yet, their map shows three satellite companies on the list. It also shows EACH SPEED of DSL from Windstream as if they’re a separate provider. They do anything to try to pad the numbers.

Anywho, there’s really only two providers here: Spectrum and Windstream, and Windstream doesn’t offer speeds high enough to actually qualify… which is another point – their map shows everything down to 2Mbps and claims it as “broadband”. Again, anything to pad the numbers.

As far as satellite goes, where I live is too wooded and has too many rainy days to make satellite effective. AND satellite is too slow to qualify as broadband in any case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Really bad

I thought satellite was not supposed to be counted along with wireless for broadband?

We should extend the "broadband" definition with limits on latency and data-transfer caps. If Elon Musk can make satellite meet these requirements, let it count. The current providers would not meet any reasonable targets; they’re strictly a last resort for people who can’t get an actual good connection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Really bad

In my area in Minneapolis, it lists Comcast, Centurylink, and the same half dozen satellite providers listed for everyone. Centurylink claims to offer 100 Mbps down (they only offer 40 in my area, and due to 100 year old neighborhood wiring you don’t get more than 25).

Interestingly the map does not list US Internet Fiber, who offer FTTH in my neighborhood at links up to 10 gig symmetrical (1 gigabit for $65, 10g for $300).

We LOVE US Internet here, who are one of many small FTTH providers in Minnesota, some of whom have committed to upholding the FCC Net Neutrality rules and/or committed to not conducting deep packet inspection or selling DNS query log data.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Why stop there?

If they’re going to lie they might as well go all out.

If the map says that a particular area has nine providers? Nay, clearly there are nineteen available, and that’s for a relatively ‘noncompetitive’ area.

Most of the US has at least three dozen options, all highly competitive in price and speed, and if someone doesn’t favor any of the current options just phone the FCC who will create a dozen more for you to choose from.

An Onymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: 250 Mbps? Comcast?

Clearly their map is wrong but, for my address, I actually have Frontier fiber 100/100 and their map only shows 30/30 as available in my area. They also show that I can get ADSL and satellite but neither is available here. Of course, the satellite options don’t meet the >= 25/3 definition shown on that same map.

It looks like the whole thing is generalized and averaged for an area.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 250 Mbps? Comcast?

Doing the work on an address-by-address basis is incredibly difficult since nobody knows what cables you already have etc. There was a reason it was dropped in the first place: It has little more value than acting as government-paid advertising for companies nobody knows nor need to know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 250 Mbps? Comcast?

Doing the work on an address-by-address basis is incredibly difficult since nobody knows what cables you already have etc.

Each ISP ought o know what addresses they can easily reach with the spare capacity of their networks. If they don’t they will misinform people researching a house they want to buy….ohh… there are such horror stories.

Eric says:

I think this is pretty neat, actually. It’s accurate (within its goals) in my county. The data is very granular, and the filters are useful. As far as I can tell from my experience, the data are accurate. The problem is the (deliberate) misinterpretation of results.

My county is correctly mapped as having two broadband options once I deselect wireless and satellite, and I can zoom down to an individual street level and see exactly what the coverage of these providers is (assuming it is accurate).

The problem is that my county would be a checkmark in the “full competitive coverage” column even though most areas (71 %) have only one provider (when filtered for 25/3Mbps and no wireless/satellite) and 11 % have no access under those conditions.

Still, pretty neat tool. Wish I had something like this for cell phone network coverage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I disagree. I have filtered >=25/3, but it still presents 12 broadband options, even though only 3 options in the list meet that criteria. I tried to remove ADSL options, none of which meet a 3/1 mbps standard, and they still appear in my list, despite not meeting my selection criteria. The list is not updating with my changes in selection.

As a ‘broadband map’ it might work, but it includes a ton of options that are not broadband, and may or may not be availible. Hell, AT&T is apparently competeing with itself…

Dont believe me? Look here

ECA (profile) says:

Still remids me of the old CELLPHONE MAPS..

The only way they Got this data..
is thru the corps.
They DIDNT WONDER AROUND AND TEST THINGS, and locations.
They Didnt ask the PEOPLE to run the speed tests..

Seems they didnt even ask Oookla..or any OTHER Speed test program.

The Data Shows I can get 1000mbps…IN MY DREAMS, Fantasies, and Pocketbook..
Can we have a definition of Competition??
If you include SAT, we have access around the world.
Anyone that has delt with WIRELESS, knows the problems..
Unless you wish to deal with Microwave, this is NOT possible if you like BIRDS..

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