The FCC Doesn't Actually Know How Many People Have Broadband

from the busted-data 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 competition (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.

While these shaky maps have been the norm for several decades, recent bipartisan pressure by states (upset that they’re not getting their share of taxpayer subsidies because we don’t actually know where broadband is) has finally forced even the Ajit Pai FCC and the telecom industry to take some modest action.

US Telecom, a lobbying org largely backed by AT&T, has been conducting trials in Missouri and Virginia that utilize a new broadband mapping system that integrates hundreds of millions of data points, statistical scoring, and managed crowdsourcing to get a far more accurate assessment of broadband availability. The results? A huge chunk of the areas the FCC has long claimed have broadband, don’t:

“In Missouri and Virginia, up to 38% of rural homes and businesses that the FCC counts as having broadband access actually do not, the new research found. That’s more than 445,000 unconnected homes and businesses that the FCC would call “served” with its current system.

Given that the new research covered just two states with a combined population of 14.6 million (or 4.5% of the 327.2 million people nationwide), it’s likely that millions of homes nationwide have been wrongly counted as served by broadband. A full accounting of how the current data exaggerates access could further undercut FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s claims that repealing net neutrality rules and other consumer protection measures have dramatically expanded broadband access.”

Granted most of this is due to the flawed Form 477 data the FCC collects from ISPs. Historically, nobody has confirmed that the data ISPs provided is really accurate, letting ISPs spend years falsely overstating broadband availability. The FCC’s methodology had long made the problem worse by determining an entire census blocked “served” with broadband if just one home in that zone had broadband.

The industry has long opposed more accurate mapping because it would only serve to highlight the industry’s coverage and competitive shortcomings. That’s a major reason why the FCC’s $350 million broadband map omits pricing data and largely hallucinates both availability and speeds. And the industry is only finally buckling to pressure now because it knows better mapping efforts are inevitable, and they want to be the ones in control of the data. Some consumer advocates are understandably concerned that less transparency into the raw data may be the industry’s broader goal.

Whether the FCC will adopt US Telecom’s approach is unclear. But what is clear is that the agency tasked with improving broadband deployment in the US doesn’t actually know who has broadband and hasn’t for the better part of the last decade. What’s also fairly clear is that the Pai FCC’s claims that gutting consumer protections (like net neutrality) have dramatically boosted broadband availability, are routinely not supported by, you know, facts. It’s kind of hard to claim your policies are having a profound impact on broadband availability when you don’t actually know where broadband’s available in the first place.

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Comments on “The FCC Doesn't Actually Know How Many People Have Broadband”

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11 Comments
ECA (profile) says:

Lets throw some numbers.

Take the USA population.. Divide the City folk and country folk..
Consider that 30% of Cities PROBABLY dont/cant/.. Get access because of Some odd reason.
The country folk, small to medium towns are 2/3 of that population. and have a 50/50 chance of having access, IF someone just installed the lines. But if you ask the old phone system, they have the numbers, Because DSL is the only thing that can get OUT into the country where cable/fiber/…/… Cant/wont go.

Something funny about that, that the old Phone corps wont tell you… is AFTER its installed, its all free money. IF’ they keep up the hardware, all thats needed tends to be replacing 40 year old poles. And we Subsidize this.

Question…How many Fiber lines across the USA follow the freeways into every area? And how many small-medium Towns are Missed by more then 1 mile?? LOTS.
To FIX the old phone lines would require, taking DOWN and replacing all the phone lines installed over 40 years of work to Coax or Fiber. THAT is the fun part of all this. As well, as Iv heard that the USA gov. has paid TWICE to have it done.
BUT, who is getting the money? The old phone system?? or the Converted Cellphone system.

Anonymous Coward says:

" And the industry is only finally buckling to pressure now because it knows better mapping efforts are inevitable, and they want to be the ones in control of the data."

Really? I thought the reason was because since the map shows that the area has broadband deployed, ISP’s won’t be able to get subsidies to deploy 5G to those areas since the subsidies are only for new, unserved areas…. Using the old data, deployment of 5G would have come out of thier own pocket….

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