Senators Continue To Point Out Our Broadband Maps Suck

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

For a country that likes to talk about “being number one” a lot, that’s sure not reflected in the United States’ broadband networks, or the broadband maps we use to determine which areas lack adequate broadband or commpetition (resulting in high prices and poor service). Our terrible broadband maps are of course a feature not a bug; ISPs have routinely lobbied to kill any efforts to improve data collection and analysis, lest somebody actually realize the telecom market is a broken mono/duopoly whose dysfunction reaches into every aspect of tech.

If you want to see our terrible broadband maps at work, you need only go visit the FCC’s $300+ million broadband availability map, which is based on the Form 477 data collected from ISPs. If you plug in your address, you’ll find that not only does the FCC not include prices (at industry behest), the map hallucinates speed and ISP availability at most U.S. addresses. Part of the problem is that the FCC declares an entire region “served” with broadband if just one home in a census tract has service. Again, ISPs fight efforts to reform this in a bid to protect the status quo.

Only when states are jockeying for broadband subsidies is this problem even brought up in DC, so as states vie for $4.7 million in wireless broadband subsidies via the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II, the problem has been seeing renewed attention.

Back in August, Montana Senator Jon Tester took these criticisms to a new level, bluntly insisting the FCC’s maps “stink” and that we really have “got to kick somebody’s ass” to get the problem fixed. Like Tester, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin also isn’t impressed and has been trying to challenge the FCC’s historically terrible coverage maps. This week Manchin again pointed out that our US broadband maps are terrible, while noting he was the only member of Congress to actually formally challenge them:

“Manchin argued the map does not accurately show broadband coverage in West Virginia, leaving some out of receiving reliable and affordable broadband. Rural areas were getting screwed, and all of West Virginia was getting screwed because these big-time carriers were showing, ?Oh, this is our area. We?ve got it taken care of, don?t worry. They?re only going to go into areas where they know that they?re going to have a return on an investment. It?s no different than electricity back in the 1930s.”

Therein lies the problem. Incumbent ISPs see no reason to deploy broadband into countless areas (rural and urban) country wide because they either don’t see a good return on the investment, or the unyielding need for quarterly improvements mean they don’t see a return quickly enough for Wall Street’s liking. And while that’s certainly understandable, at the same time incumbent ISPs do everything in their power to prevent cities from wiring themselves either, most notably via the 21 protectionist laws ISPs have quite literally written and purchased that ban towns and cities from exploring more creative solutions.

That’s particularly true in Manchin’s West Virginia, which we’ve long noted is the poster child for US broadband corruption and dysfunction, thanks in large part to regional incumbent telco Frontier Communications.

Last year, the ISP fired a seven year employee because, at his part-time job as West Virginia senate leader (note how nobody in the state thought that was a conflict of interest), he voted for a new law that would actually help improve broadband penetration and competition in the state. Frontier has also been under fire for the better part of the last decade over allegations that the ISP routinely rips off taxpayers and has wasted millions in past subsidies by intentionally misrepresenting how that money was spent.

So while it’s great that Manchin is the only Senator that actually cares about the country’s broadband maps, terrible broadband maps are just a symptom of a much broader problem Manchin tap dances around: corruption and cronyism. Even the most well-intentioned US lawmakers routinely let some of the least popular, monopolistic companies in America dictate both federal and state telecom policy, then stand around with an idiotic look on their faces as they wonder what could have possibly gone wrong.

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Comments on “Senators Continue To Point Out Our Broadband Maps Suck”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I just popped my mother’s old address into it. It came back with both Charter and ATT providing coverage. Neither of them do.

It looks, according to the map, that there would be 9 options. The reality is that the 2 satellite providers and one independent which provides a sort of cell coverage are the only options that actually work.

It’s just like looking at a cell map, red everywhere, but if you go everywhere in that red, not so much.

Vic B (profile) says:

Having lived in a few countries in Europe and Asia where high quality and low cost shame our little #1 land’s services, I can correct that the issue isn’t one of monopoly or duopoly but one of government directive. In shithole lands, governments define norms and services and require businesses wishing to partake in the fun to conform to their directives. It’s efficient, really. But in our again great motherland, the philosophy (I use that word to muddle the pond) is to let business compete in a Darwinian kind of way (with God on their side) for ultimate efficiency. But, like in real life, evolution is slow. So, instead of efficiency, we have competitive anarchy and a government paid by the growing beasts to tell us it’s the best way!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

instead of efficiency, we have competitive anarchy

The market certainly can’t be described as "competitive", and "anarchy" would be an improvement. Anarchy would mean nobody has authority—nobody, then, could stop municipal broadband or other competition. The reality is that there are people in charge, and they’re working for the incumbent ISPs instead of the public.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

I always laugh

Every time I’m reminded I go check out a few places on the map.

I check the area around my local windstream offices – everywhere in the county has 50Mbit DSL (yeah right) except for a 2 block area around the windstream offices/central hub in the area (which is also the downtown exchange) where they list no windstream service at all.

Then I check a few of my old homes, two of which have magical ultra-fast DSL that has never actually been available in the area (when I research, I do DETAILED damned research, including everything like cable-run sizes for the locations in the area).

Another has 3 different entries for the same company – one with the ultrafast fantasy, and two with realistic 6/0.5 and 1.5/0.25 connections listed. It’s like someone submitted a bullshit answer, not knowing that someone submitted a real one too

Bogus Consumer Info says:

Misleading Maps

The maps are also highly misleading when referring to consumer speeds.

Looked up my residence on the availability map. It shows up and down speeds which residences do NOT have access to unless they pay for Business broadband.

I find this deceptive just like their bundles and packages which don’t reflect the reality of their bogus fees and taxes you as a consumer will pay each month.

ECA (profile) says:

Bill collectors dont improve the process.

There are strange things to think about and HOW!! corps have worked in the past..
Restrict access
Limit access
Claim everything do nothing
Raise Prices because of limits..

Talked to a few of the installers for Fiber(not the ISP/cellphone corps) and they NEED THE WORK..

Why cant these corps Jump in and GET THE JOB DONE??
Answer: Because.

Want to hit them in the SHORTS..demand they match speed and price with the Average market prices..
As the Rural areas seem to have great prices and speeds. and 90% of the Nation IS RURAL..
they do the same for Fuel prices..

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Let’s see. I’m in the boonies, East Sacramento.

Yeah I know, nobody’s heard of it.

OK, according to this site, I’ve got coverage from nine providers. They count Sonic and AT&T twice each. I want to note parenthetically that while they are separate companies, Sonic is using AT&T’s infrastructure. OTOH they’re also talking about two different technologies, so it’s arguable. (edit: Actually the AT&T thing is two different price points for the same service, but capped at different limits.)

Comcast: I don’t know the actual speeds possible, but 200/10 might be reasonable. Last time I checked was years ago. (edit: see below.)

Sonic ADSL: 80/4. Nope, I’m getting 15/1 on a good day. (Times two. The two lines are similar.) My ISP doesn’t artificially cap, so this is entirely due to my distance from whatever I’m distant from. It might be possible to get 80 down and 4 up if I lived somewhere else in this tract. Which I don’t.

Sonic “other” 12/12: probably fiber, my ISP (Omsoft in Davis) started selling some fiber-based connection last year, and they’re working through Sonic, QED. Unfortunately, it’s not actually available at my house. I asked. Possibly it would be available if I lived somewhere else. Which I still don’t.

AT&T ADSL: 18/0.768 is actually close to what I’m getting, though they like to artificially cap their speeds and raise their rates. I can’t actually get 18 here, even though AT&T supposedly fixed the copper.

AT&T ADSL: 6/0.512 uh, see above. This would cost me about the same as I’m paying through Omsoft, only Omsoft gives me actual real customer support, and doesn’t cap the rate.

Dishnet, ViaSat, VSAT: Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah hah!

Winters Broadband, LLC: This appears to be a fixed WiFi-based service whose entire coverage map seems to be at least 40 miles west of me (the other side of Davis). At a 2.5x cost difference for approximately the same service, though according to their web site, I could spend 4x and get 2x the speed. But I seriously doubt they actually service my area.

I just checked Comcast’s site, they will actually sell me some pretty hot Internet for what I’m paying now. Too bad they refuse to include support at that price, and the price will go up every year. Still without support. They appear to be willing to sell me up to 2000Mbps, though they don’t show the uplink rate. Whether it will actually work is a separate question, nor whether they’ll have to perform what I would presume to be a very expensive upgrade of the lines coming into my home. Probably they can do the $50 option and maybe the $75 option.

Sometimes I’m tempted. Then I compare their sales force answering the tech lines after a bout of menu hell to Omsoft’s single menu level and the willingness of their CEO to show up to my house to help with a tricky configuration — which, as it turned out, a tech and I figured out over the phone — and I think, screw it!

So those nine choices are actually two, arguably three. Four if you count satellite, but that ignores the latency issue, which sucks big rocks when you’re trying to play games online. And Omsoft uses AT&T’s lines, only it gives better support at lower cost. So, two. (Also, I don’t believe Dish’s uplink speed.)

This hasn’t changed to any significant degree in 10 years. I think Comcast’s speeds have gotten faster, that’s all. So please, Pai, please tell me how things are awesome and improving every day, and how great the competition is. Because these are the choices I have in the capitol city of one of the two largest states in the contiguous US. If it’s that crappy here, I can’t imagine what it’s like out in the sticks.

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