US Broadband Gaps Are Twice As Bad As The Government Claims
from the even-more-busted-than-you-thought 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.
If you want to see our terrible broadband maps at work, you need only go visit the FCC’s $350+ 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 block has service.
And guess what: it’s even worse than you think. A new study by BroadbandNow, compared the FCC’s data to data provided by the pre-qualification tools on ISPs’ websites. What they found was that U.S. broadband gaps are probably about twice as bad as the FCC has suggested:
“The firm examined broadband availability across the U.S. using more than 11,000 addresses from a dataset of 1 million. Those addresses were first compared to FCC data, then verified via the broadband availability websites of nine different internet service providers (ISPs). Even taking a conservative approach to estimates, the group claims the actual number of unserved American households is closer to 42 million?double FCC estimates.”
Oh, and it’s actually possible it’s even worse than this, given that even ISPs websites pre-qualification tools are notoriously unreliable, too. More than one homeowner has bought a new home after confirming (numerous times) with their ISP that the address has service, only to discover later that it most definitely does not.
After years of criticism the FCC finally recently proposed using more accurate geospatial and crowdsourced data, though those efforts have yet to materialize, and wireless carriers are lobbying hard to ensure that 5G wireless networks aren’t included in these improvements (lest they show how spotty 5G deployments really are). There’s also some concern that incumbent carriers may try to hijack the improvement process with an eye toward making this data and its collection less transparent than it should be.
Again, 20 years of bad broadband mapping data didn’t happen by accident, gaffe, or error. Industry has fought tooth and nail for years against more accurate broadband mapping data, knowing very well that once you’ve clearly identified a problem (in this case monopoly domination of a very broken market), somebody might just get the crazy idea to try and fix it.