Senators Say The FCC's Broadband Maps are a Bad Joke
from the hide-a-problem-so-you-don't-have-to-fix-it dept
We’ve noted for some time how the broadband industry fights tooth and nail against more accurate broadband availability mapping, since having a better understanding of the broadband industry’s competition problem might just result in somebody actually doing something about it. This dysfunction and apathy was most recently illustrated with the FCC’s recent release of an “updated” broadband availability map, which all but hallucinates competition, speeds, and overall availability. This map (available here) also omits pricing data at industry behest, resulting in a $300 million pair of rose-colored glasses.
But it’s not just the FCC’s broadband availability map that’s under fire. FCC maps that determine which area get wireless subsidies (more specifically Mobility Fund Phase II (MF II) funding) are also a bad joke for many of the same reasons. As such, a group of Senators from both parties fired off a letter to the FCC last week, politely pointing out how the FCC’s new wireless coverage map dramatically overstates the availability of wireless broadband service:
“We write this letter to express our serious concerns that the map released by the Federal Communications Commission last week showing presumptive eligible areas for Mobility Fund Phase II (MF II) support may not be an accurate depiction of areas in need of universal service support. We understand that the map was developed based on a preliminary assessment from a one-time data collection effort that will be verified through a challenge process. However, we are concerned that the map misrepresents the existence of 4G LTE services in many areas. As a result, the Commission?s proposed challenge process may not be robust enough to adequately address the shortcomings in the Commission?s assessment of geographic areas in need of support for this proceeding.”
When you’re crafting telecom policy, actually understanding the “reality on the ground” is arguably important. But if you can twist, manipulate, and distort the data to indicate the industry doesn’t have any real problems, you can justify the kind of head-in-sand approach to leadership that birthed the telecom industry’s dysfunction in the first place. In this case, the MF II is intended to provide $4.53 billion in support over 10 years to preserve and expand mobile coverage to rural areas, something that won’t actually happen if maps aren’t correctly illustrating which areas need help and which areas don’t.
The Senators were quick to point this out in their letter to Ajit Pai, who has repeatedly and breathlessly professed his dedication to closing the digital divide, even while the lion’s share of his policies work to make these problems inherently worse:
“For too long, millions of rural Americans have been living without consistent and reliable mobile broadband service. Identifying rural areas as not eligible for support will exacerbate the digital divide, denying fundamental economic opportunities to these rural communities. We strongly urge the Commission to accurately and consistently identify areas that do not have unsubsidized 4G LTE service and provide Congress with an update on final eligible areas before auctioning $4.53 billion of MF II support.”
Some lawmakers, like New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, have taken to begging for public input on their websites in the hopes of getting a more accurate picture of real-world coverage. Some, like Kansas Senator Jerry Moran say the FCC map’s ?value is nil,” while Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker stated the FCC’s map was “utterly worthless of giving us good information.” That’s not particularly impressive for an FCC that has been crowing about how data driven it is, but it’s the price of supporting revolving door regulators who prioritize monopoly revenues over science, competition, innovation or the welfare of the public.
And while the telecom industry will be quick to insist that this is just the inherent dysfunction of government at play, the reality that this is a feature, not a bug. ISPs have routinely fought tooth and nail against every and any attempt to build better maps, fearing that a more accurate picture will only result in efforts to not only (gasp) improve competition, but might result in the subsidizing of smaller competitors that could disrupt the comfortable (but very, very broken) telecom sector status quo.