Pai FCC Ignored Falsely Inflated Broadband Numbers To Pat Itself On The Back
from the whoops-a-daisy dept
We’ve noted more than once that the Donald Trump, Ajit Pai FCC isn’t much for this whole accurate data thing. This FCC can routinely be found parroting inaccurate lobbyist claims on a wide variety of subjects, whether that’s the rate of recent broadband investment, or the number of people just out of reach of affordable broadband. As such, it’s not uncommon to find the FCC basing policy decisions on junk data; most recently exemplified by its rubber stamping of the job and competition eroding Sprint/T-Mobile merger (which was approved before FCC staff had seen ANY data).
Last year, Pai’s FCC tried to claim that the number of U.S. residents without access to fixed broadband (25Mbps downstream, 3Mbps upstream as per the FCC) dropped from 26.1 million people at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017. Pai’s agency attributed this improvement to the agency “removing barriers to infrastructure investment,” which is code for gutting most meaningful consumer protections at lobbyist behest. But last year we noted that a good chunk of that improvement was not only thanks to policies Pai historically opposed (community fiber broadband networks and fiber build out conditions affixed to the 2015 AT&T DirecTV merger), but to administrative error.
Consumer groups also pointed out that a big reason for that shift was a major false claim on the part of a smaller ISP named BarrierFree. BarrierFree had dramatically overstated its coverage areas in Form 477 data submitted to the FCC, resulting in broadband improvement numbers overstated by millions of Americans. In a follow up report this week, the FCC quietly acknowledged that the FCC was long aware of the “mistake” but published the falsely inflated numbers anyway:
“This week, the FCC released more details on BarrierFree’s apparent history of violating rules requiring ISPs to submit “Form 477” broadband-deployment data every six months, and it shows that numerous warning signs were spotted by FCC staff long before Pai touted the inaccurate data. The FCC on Tuesday issued a Notice of Apparent Liability that proposed a $163,912 fine for BarrierFree, kicking off a process that gives BarrierFree a chance to respond to the allegations and fight the proposed penalty.
The problem, of course, is that this isn’t some one off. The form 477 data submitted by ISPs has long been taken at face value by the FCC; an obvious problem since ISPs have a vested interest in obscuring any broadband coverage or competition shortcomings (lest somebody try to do something about it). In addition to not really verifying submitted numbers, the FCC compounds the problem with methodology that declares an entire census block “served” with broadband if just one home in that block has service. As a result, the FCC is in no position to claim with any accuracy that it even knows where broadband is truly available, much less that unpopular efforts like the attack on net neutrality contributed to meaningful improvements.
Consumer groups say in this case, the Pai FCC once again failed to make accurate data a genuine priority, or take any real accountability for its own failure to adequately police the data reported by ISPs:
“Although the FCC is trying to fine BarrierFree for submitting inaccurate data, the commission is not penalizing the ISP for failing to submit over 10 years’ worth of required Form 477 reports. “The Pai FCC slept on BarrierFree’s repeated violation of FCC rules,” Free Press Research Director Derek Turner told Ars, calling the FCC’s attempt to downplay its own role in spreading inaccurate data “shameful.”
This bunk data and willful incompetence is most easily reflected by the FCC’s $300 million broadband availability map. Spend just a few minutes perusing your neighborhood and it quickly becomes apparent the FCC is not only all but hallucinating available providers and speeds, but it also refuses to even collect and share data on another telling metric: broadband prices. The end result is a broadband affordability problem we genuinely haven’t yet measured, and rose-colored glasses proclamations by the Pai FCC that are based more on magical thinking than anything resembling hard data.