FCC Says It Will Finally Investigate Nation's Bullshit Broadband Availability Maps. Maybe.

from the rose-colored-glasses dept

For years we’ve noted how the FCC’s broadband availability maps are just comically bad. If you’d like to confirm that take, you can just plug your home address into the agency’s $350 million broadband availability map and watch as entire ISPs and speed availability are largely hallucinated. This is a problem that never gets fixed, largely because the nation’s entrenched broadband providers (and the politicians paid to love them) have a vested interest in pretending that the US broadband industry isn’t just an aggressive hodge-podge of broken monopolies and duopolies nickel-and-diming the hell out of captive customers.

Senators have been bitching about the maps a little more lately as states vie for FCC Mobility Fund Phase II Auction subsidies, which will dole out $4.5 billion to under-connected states over the next decade. Back in August, Montana Senator Jon Tester went so far as to suggest that said maps “stink” and that somebody should have their “ass kicked” for the terrible data the FCC uses for both subsidies and policy.

Last Friday the Sisyphean quest to stop our maps from sucking turned an interesting corner, when the FCC announced (pdf) it was finally launching an investigation into whether “one or more” mobile carriers submitted false coverage data to the FCC. The FCC appears to be responding to a complaint (pdf) filed earlier this year by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), which stated that Verizon was “grossly overstating” the company’s 4G LTE broadband coverage in its filings with the FCC.

FCC boss Ajit Pai likes to talk a lot about how he’s “closing the digital divide,” despite the fact his policies (like killing net neutrality or weakening the very definition of the word “competition”) generally tend to make problems of broadband availability and affordability worse. But the pressure coming from states as they clamor for their chunk of subsidies appears to have finally forced Pai (whose post-FCC political aspirations are fairly obvious) to take action:

“My top priority is bridging the digital divide and ensuring that Americans have access to digital opportunity regardless of where they live, and the FCC?s Mobility Fund Phase II program can play a key role in extending high-speed Internet access to rural areas across America,? said Chairman Pai. ?In order to reach those areas, it?s critical that we know where access is and where it is not. A preliminary review of speed test data submitted through the challenge process suggested significant violations of the Commission?s rules. That?s why I?ve ordered an investigation into these matters. We must ensure that the data is accurate before we can proceed.”

Those concerns were mirrored by Pai’s fellow Commissioner Brendan Carr:

“It is deeply concerning that FCC staff’s preliminary analysis of the challenge data shows that one or more major carriers potentially violated the Commission’s MF-II mapping rules and submitted incorrect maps. Today’s announcement aligns with concerns I shared with Chairman Pai, and I look forward to working with him and our able staff to complete this investigation.”

A big part of the Mobility Fund Phase II subsidy process involves incumbent carriers like Verizon providing accurate broadband availability maps to determine which areas are in most dire need of subsidized help. But because companies like Verizon don’t want to both advertise their network shortcomings or help drive funds to would-be competitors, they tend to overstate coverage of both mobile and fixed-line networks. Last August, Verizon denied to Ars Technica that its broadband availability data was inaccurate after the data was called a “sham” by the RWA.

This rose-colored glasses approach to broadband mapping is decades old, so any surprise you’re hearing from government probably isn’t all that authentic. As such, any applause should be held until actual action is taken and the companies involved are adequately punished (especially given Verizon used to be Pai’s employer). Still, it’s great to see Pai and the FCC at least pay some attention to a problem that has plagued the telecom sector for years, allowing it to paint an inaccurate picture of broadband availability and competition, thereby hampering any efforts to actually do something about it.

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Comments on “FCC Says It Will Finally Investigate Nation's Bullshit Broadband Availability Maps. Maybe.”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

FCC act? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,...

First, given the FCC’s current rate of lying, either alleged or proven, is so high that it is difficult to say that whatever they say is truthful to any extent?

Second, how do they expect to close the ‘digital divide’ without competition, something they seem adamantly opposed to? Of course, if the competition is actually allowed, then those competitors will be absorbed forthwith, that is as soon as they spent the money to improve rural broadband.

Third, what is, or could, the FCC do about the billions of dollars already given to the Telecom’s/ISP’s to do rural development that they have taken as profits and done very little to nothing about rural development?

Fourth, when and/or if the FCC actually gets accurate information on Broadband Availability, just what will they do about it? They seem to have given up their ability to supervise Telecom’s/ISP’s in their strained effort to eliminate net neutrality.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: FCC act? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,

Better question, why is government subsidizing business .. at all? If a business can not survive in the market place, then perhaps it should fail and disappear. Isn’t this a very basic requirement of a market that is supposedly self regulating?

Are these the same folk who demand elimination of all social programs? They seem to have overlooked their favorite welfare programs used to further enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Anonymous FCC Shill says:

Don't you know?

Mr Wheeler got those fixed. So did the FCC commissioner before him, and the FCC commissioner before him and the ….

We, the Wireless providers did a lot of work collecting that data. But if you want improved accuracy, you’ll have to GIVE US A GOVERNMENT subsidy to do this. You know we have really tight margins, and pulling extra funds out for this will need some more government subsidies…

Sorry, I’m late, I gotta go pick up my check now.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Wrong tense

As such, any applause should be held until actual action is taken and the companies involved are adequately punished (especially given Verizon used to be Pai’s employer).

They used to be his official employer, but given his actions to date heading the FCC I’d say it’s pretty clear that he at least thinks he’s still working for them, even if he’s not on the official payroll(yet).

As for the accuracy or lack thereof of the coverage maps, I suspect you could fix that problem right quick by tying accurate information to subsidies. No accurate maps, no subsidies, in any field. Alternatively you could slam the company for increasingly heavy fines if they can’t provide what should be the most basic information regarding their service(namely ‘do we offer service to a particular spot?’), with extra fines added on top for lies where it’s claimed that they offer service but in fact do not by any reasonable definition, such as where the network is near a spot but not actually connected to the homes/buildings there.

Anonymous Coward says:

This seems such a trivial issue to fix. Simply set a fine (say, $10,000) for any locus that they claim to serve, but cannot provide service (at local rates, without an installation charge above, say, $100) within a set period (say, two weeks.) Let the putative customer get 2/3 of the fee. Only charge half the fine if the map is corrected within that time. Double the fine, weekly, if the company lawyers up and turns out to be lying. This will let the incendiary-trowsers, bifurcated-tongue companies pay for crowd-sourcing the correction of their maps.

Alternatively, they can provide accurate maps using internal sources.

One might give a reasonable time — say, two or three months — before the penalties begin to kick in.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Uphill. Both ways. IN THE SNOW!

Oh absolutely, I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with billions in subsides that are meant to upgrade internet access in areas with poor service, a task that is much more difficult if you don’t have an accurate picture of exactly which areas need the money the most.

Nope, clearly this is nothing more than politicians pulling a PR stunt over nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cox a year ago started enforcing a 1 TB data cap on all their plans with a $50/mo “unlimited data” plan added as an underhanded way to increase your cable bill by about 75%. Looking at the FCC site it shows Centurlink DSL at 40 meg which is false they only offer 20 meg and said depending on your phone line condition it may be much less then than in reality. They also list a satellite internet provider Hughes net that for only $70 a month I can get a slow connection and 20 GB of data! FCC supports the ISP cable monopolies.

YepYep says:

a pai

What this all comes down to. A*.) pai sees what is comeing down the road and trying to keep himself out of jail. He see what is happening to america’s dictator and his family going to go to jail. For collusion and robbing the people for their own gain and where thats heading.
With hopefully jailtime for them all and maybe treason charges.
But he see’s his collusion with the isp’s,telco’s and broadcast companies it all catching up to him and others at the fcc.
With the house and ag’s looking into the comments that was filed and probably find that most was headed up by the isp’s and fcc, he’s getting nervous just like our dictator and his family. Now his so called jokes with verizon.(Which really was sarcasm to the american people)about net neutrality will be coming back out in the open for all to see. His collusion with sinclair(New how that inside ig was going to come out on that one before it happen,was all a coverup)but now will all be coming back out when dems take over the house.(I’m not a dem or rep,I’m independent)
But he is trying to save his butt from jail. Hopefully him,our dictator,our dictators family(not pai’s kids and family,they are probably already going thru hell cause what he’s doing)get to enjoy their cozy little cell together.

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