Outgoing FCC's Last Act Is A Delusional Report That Pretends US Broadband Is Wonderful
from the delusion-to-the-last dept
By law, the FCC is required once a year to issue a report indicating whether quality broadband is being deployed on a “reasonable and timely basis.” If not, the agency is supposed to, you know, actually do something about it. Unsurprisingly, the Pai FCC last year issued a glowing report declaring that everything was going swimmingly, despite some glaring evidence to the contrary. After all, the nation’s phone companies have effectively stopped upgrading their DSL lines, leaving cable giants like Comcast with a growing monopoly over faster broadband speeds (no, neither Elon Musk nor 5G will magically fix this problem).
As one of its last acts in power, the outgoing Trump FCC this week issued its latest annual report on the state of broadband deployment in the US. And, rather unsurprisingly for an agency that took kissing monopoly ass to an entirely new level, outgoing boss Ajit Pai used it to declare the US broadband is perfectly healthy thanks to mindless deregulation and his incredible leadership:
“From my first day as Chairman, the FCC?s top priority has been closing the digital divide. It?s heartening to see these numbers, which demonstrate that we?ve been delivering results for the American people,? said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“These successes resulted from forward-thinking policies that removed barriers to infrastructure investment and promoted competition and innovation. I look forward to seeing the Commission continue its efforts to ensure that all Americans have broadband access. Especially with the success of last year?s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction, I have no doubt that these figures will continue to improve as auction winners deploy networks in the areas for which they got FCC funding.”
The problem: FCC broadband mapping data and methodology is hot garbage, something all FCC Commissioners (after more than a decade of complaints) only started even acknowledging in the last few years. Monopolies like Comcast and AT&T have long fought tooth and nail against more accurate mapping and data collection, knowing full well that once the public gets a better view of how spotty, expensive, and uncompetitive the US broadband market is, somebody might just get the crazy idea to do something about it. Captured regulators eagerly share this view.
While there certainly has been improvement over the last four years in terms of broadband access, the Pai FCC also has a four-year history of taking credit for improvements they had nothing to do with. One such example is the steady growth in community owned and operated broadband networks, which Pai FCC’s actively opposed. Pai’s FCC has even tried to take credit for AT&T fiber deployment mandated as a merger condition by the previous, Obama FCC. That’s before you even get to Pai’s widely disproven claim that gutting the FCC’s consumer protection authority (and net neutrality rules) resulted in incredible new investment.
Pai’s last FCC progress report also clings tight to the claim that our definition of broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up) is still good enough for modern policy making:
“We find that the current speed benchmark of 25/3Mbps remains an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service is providing advanced telecommunications capability. We conclude that fixed services with speeds of 25/3Mbps continue to meet the statutory definition of advanced telecommunications capability; that is, such services “enable users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications.”
3 Mbps is pathetic. It in no way meets the urgency of a moment, and that was before entire families became stuck at home gaming, streaming 4K video, and teleconferencing due to the pandemic. And here too is yet another example where Pai’s FCC went out of its way to pander to telecom monopolies. Monopolies cried like toddlers in 2010 when the previous FCC increased the definition from 200 kbps symmetrical to 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream. Giant ISPs whined again when the FCC in 2015 bumped it to 25/3. They oppose a higher standard because it would clearly illustrate monopolization and market failure. Captured regulators and lawmakers, again, eagerly share this position.
A slow consensus is emerging that 50/25 or even 100/25 should be the new normal. But Pai not only parroted industry opposition to increasing it, he actively tried to weaken the existing standard. Again, the goal here isn’t to “bridge the digital divide,” it’s to obfuscate it on the behalf of monopolies. Monopolies that employ an army of lobbyists, consultant, academics, and think tankers whose entire function is to pretend that US broadband isn’t a monopolistic mess. It’s why you’ll never see Pai and his ilk even mention US broadband pricing, because they know what that kind of observation leads to.
It remains unclear just what kind of FCC leadership the incoming Biden administration has in mind. But with COVID finally lighting a fire under our collective apathy on this subject, at a bare minimum you’d hope they’ll have a fundamental respect for real world data. Real world data that, with any luck, results in us no longer looking at the broken US telecom sector through distorted, rose colored glasses.