FCC Wants To Hear Your Thoughts On Crappy US Broadband

from the reality-based dept

One consistent point of pride for the Trump FCC, like many Trump agencies, was its active disdain for real world data. It didn’t matter how much data showed that US broadband was expensive and spotty due to monopolization (and there’s a lot of data clearly proving that point), the Trump FCC didn’t care. It didn’t matter that surveys showed that net neutrality was popular among consumers. Guys like Ajit Pai believed that the US broadband sector was perfectly healthy and competitive and you make things even more wonderful by gutting already fairly feckless regulatory oversight even further.

In short, some people have an ideology and refuse to accept any data that challenges it, no matter how clear it is. The Ajit Pai Donald Trump FCC was the poster child for this mindset. Yeah, it can be hard for anybody to be open to changing your opinions in the face of new or shifting data, but the Trump FCC didn’t try. Like, ever. It blacklisted all reporters that even remotely criticized policy. It actively embraced bogus data from lobbyists. It routinely and knowingly spread absolute, disproven falsehoods. It wasn’t interested in real world data. It simply wasn’t.

It’s not entirely clear yet what the Biden FCC is going to look and behave like, as the Biden camp still hasn’t yet fully staffed the agency with a third Commissioner and possible permanent boss (kind of a problem during a pandemic busy highlighting how essential broadband is to… everything). But there are indications it’s going to at least listen to the data and objective experts instead of just, you know, making shit up completely.

Whereas the Pai FCC basically killed a program that used real world data collected from real consumer routers to measure consumer broadband experience (again, because it revealed truths that clashed with Pai’s ideology), the new FCC says it’s making real world consumer experiences a priority again. That includes a new portal and a new form US broadband users can use to explain their experiences with customer service, prices, speeds, availability, and other sticking points in a highly monopolized business sector.

That data will then, purportedly, be used to actively inform policymaking (crazy!):

“As the Commission develops the tools needed to enhance the accuracy of its existing broadband maps, this new form provides a way for consumers to share their broadband experiences. Stories shared by consumers will help to inform the work of the FCC?s crossagency Broadband Data Task Force.

Of course having access to real world data doesn’t mean that data will be used to seriously fix the problems in telecom, most of which orbit around two main problems: monopolization and state and federal corruption. Most of the Biden FCC’s decisions so far have been relatively basic and unsurprising, and until the Biden administration gets around to appointing a permanent boss it remains stuck in partisan gridlock (thanks to that last minute appointment of Trump BFF Nathan Simington to the Commission). Until that’s remedied, it’s hard to determine just how tough this new FCC will actually be.

Either way, it’s still essential to have real world data and accurate broadband maps to inform your policy decisions. US broadband for a good 30 years now has relied on an intentionally distorted view of the industry; one enabled by an industry that doesn’t want obvious market failure highlighted… or fixed.

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Comments on “FCC Wants To Hear Your Thoughts On Crappy US Broadband”

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Melvin Chudwaters says:

There’s only one reasonable standard for broadband, and it looks something like this:

  1. 10gbps is the minimum. Anything else isn’t broadband.
  2. Has to be symmetrical. For legal purposes, use the lower of the two numbers.
  3. Over glass. To the outside wall of the building. No wireless bullshit. No 5G. No fixed point wireless. Use that shit for Antarctic military bases. Starlink’s cool, but does not count even once up and running.
  4. Every shack with 3 walls and a roof needs to have it. If there’s some well pump shack or Hooverville tent camp somewhere, it gets fiber.
  5. Mandatory overbuilding. This means at least 3 providers for every address. Anything not overbuilt isn’t even underbuilt, it’s just not built at all.
  6. Regulations that crush the dreams of CEOs wanting to be multimedia empires. You’re a fucking utility, live with it.
  7. Legislation that makes them decide whether they want a by-data pricing models, or by-speed pricing models. Can’t have both. If you’re going to start charging someone $20 for every extra 50gb, then you don’t also get to dick around with making them pay an extra $20 to go up to the next speed tier.
  8. Legislation that cracks down on fraudulent fee schemes.
  9. Legislation that mandates the option of customer-owned equipment when desired.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Mandatory overbuilding. This means at least 3 providers for every address. Anything not overbuilt isn’t even underbuilt, it’s just not built at all.

That triples the cost of providing a connection, and leads to bankruptcy if the customers are not spread evenly across the providers.

Melvin Chudwaters says:

Re: Re: Re:

Still serves the public. There are still 3 fiber lines running to the home, and someone else will buy up those assets at auction, and they get another stab at it.

It’s strange that you don’t seem to realize this, or worse, that you do realize it but seem to have more concern for the businesses than the customers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So, to enable competition, rather than solve the regulatory problems, you will pay more for your connection. That seem like using the idea of competition to raise prices, and not reduce them.

Most of the rest of the world has settled on a regulated monopoly for the infrastructure, and competition for services over that infrastructure.

Melvin Chudwaters says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I’m not sure what principle of economics makes you believe that you’d end up paying more for such service. It’s true that you’d be subsidizing the installation of that service through payment… but that’s true for all utilities.

With the presence of two other competitors, they’d be forced to keep prices as low as the fundamentals would allow them to. The idea that somehow monopolies will behave and keep prices low because they don’t worry about competition is bizarre and illogical.

Hell, if the price were below $50/month, I’d likely pay for two services. If it’s $40/month or so, I might get all 3. I’ve already got a self-installed NID on the back wall of my house with 6 SC ports.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If say three companies install enough fibre to serve every building, then 2/3 third of that investment goes unused. One way or another users will end up paying for that build out. In practice, if one company gains more users, it can reduce it prices, gaining more users, and driving the others out of business.

The main reason that DSL systems are being left to rot is that where cable exists, that cannot compete on price and capacity. Losing those customers means that the more expensive to maintain rural DSL is no longer subsided by the urban system, and they too are being left to rot. That is competition to provide fixed line service does not work, and leads to a local monopoly and an abandoned and worthless system.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"I’m not sure what principle of economics makes you believe that you’d end up paying more for such service. It’s true that you’d be subsidizing the installation of that service through payment… but that’s true for all utilities."

More like principle of causal reality. Building triple redundance does cost more than not. You don’t really need more than one set of power cabling, sewage and water lines, or ethernet cable.

Most of the rest of the world handles this by simply enforcing an equal competition over built infrastructure – which usually leads to last mile being built by joint ventures of the local ISP’s who then compete across the lines built.

The US issues around broadband and ISP monopoly is just one more of those "Only in America" problems. Apparently in order to make capitalism work you first need a solid socialist base to put the free market on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Point number 3

So long as the delivery is reliable, consistent and affordable, with low enough latency and high enough bandwidth, does the delivery method really matter? These can all be achieved with glass fiber, copper (coax), terrestrial OTA, low-earth orbit satellites and maybe more besides (though this being April 1, not homing pigeons – see RFC 1149).

I have doubt about the benefit of giving this standard legal weight. Given sufficient competition, absent illegal conspiracy, it is unlikely that most current deficiencies will occur. The problem is how much protection from competition the uncumbents have bought themselves and setting a legal standard is of no help if the agency that polices that standard just turns a blind eye on failure to meet that standard, especially if courts deny citizens standing to sue the malefactors.

Melvin Chudwaters says:

Re: Re: Point number 3

No. Only glass fiber can provide what’s needed.

OTA may provide a pipe as fast as glass… but it’s exactly one pipe, shared by the entire footprint. Coax is 1950s technology, hobbled by companies who don’t even want to be in the internet business.

This is why we can’t have good things. Because you’re constantly trying to talk up the table scraps you have now, as if were you to self-propagandize well enough they’d toss you a few more crumbs.

Only glass will do. Everything else is inferior or science fiction.

Given sufficient competition, absent illegal conspiracy, it is unlikely that most current deficiencies will occur.

Businesses may ultimately be rational, and given the correct incentives they may ultimately come to the correct solutions.

But not on any timescale that will help you or I. They’ve learned to crony up and swindle, and corporate-cultural inertia will last 100 years or more. Culture is persistent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Point number 3

You really don’t know much about technology, at least as it applies to infrastructure, do you Melvin? Glass doesn’t guarantee anything. ISPs may lay optical cable right to the customer’s residences, but it comes from a local office where those cables are aggregated into a backbone connection. If the bandwidth of that connection is less than the total number of front-end connections times their bandwidth – as is almost universally the case – then the customers are still sharing bandwidth and there is no guarantee that a user will get their full bandwidth when they want it.

Insisting on glass for the front end BUYS YOU NOTHING. Putting laws in place to ensure what you consider equitable access is equally pointless if they are entrusted to the oversight of a government agency that has been proved to ignore its responsibilities. The market cannot solve the problem when established players have captured the regulators and had protectionist legislation enacted so that they never have to worry about competition. Dolling out public money as bribes to companies to do what they should be doing anyway is no solution, especially if they just take the money and ignore what they promised to get it (once you pay the danegeld you will never be rid of the Dane).

There simply are no quick solutions to this problem. Any real solution will need to see the dismantling of protectionist legislation, laws enabling true competition, other laws entitling customers to leave providers at will, with criminal consequences to obstruction, perhaps even constitutional amendments, as any such effort will almost certainly bang heads with the supreme court at some point. It will be a long, difficult journey. Perhaps what’s needed is a concerted campaign in a single state, with career ending ramifications for the elected officials who enable or support the incumbent service providers in their legislative shenanigans, "to encourage the others".

Melvin Chudwaters says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Point number 3

Glass doesn’t guarantee anything

It most certainly does. It guarantees that they’re not using some inferior l1/l2 with built in limitations.

True, someone might come along and design some system that uses copper that would be sufficient… but there are no such designs, no such prototypes, and no such off-the-shelf hardware.

Glass guarantees that they’re not trying to foist hfc off on us, that they’re not trying to foist some other variation on shitty DSL on us, that they’re not trying to foist fixed wireless on us, or god help us, 5g.

You’re not just wrong. You’re not even wrong. You’re confused. I managed to express all of this in an easy to understand phrase, but you being unintelligent had to challenge me, and I had to write all this out too. You’re probably not intelligent enough to understand it even with the full explanation.

Insisting on glass for the front end BUYS YOU NOTHING. Putting laws in place to ensure what you consider equitable access is equally pointless if they are entrusted to the oversight of a government agency that has been proved to ignore its responsibilities.

Wow, as bad at politics as you are at technology.

The agency is worthless in the long run, it’s true. But who gives a fuck? If in the next few years the push for all of this results in you having 3 fiber cables hooked up to your home, the agency can go fuck off and competition itself will be sufficient for people to have the sort of internet access they need. Glass doesn’t rot, doesn’t rust.

It will last awhile. Or would, if you weren’t busy negotiating on the enemy’s behalf and undermining our position. Gee, why don’t you just tell them we’ve already got what we need, thank you, please be nice to us.

There simply are no quick solutions to this problem

There are no polite solutions that are quick. If they were incentivized, we’d have 99% coverage on the mainland US in 8 years, and probably 80%+ in Alaska.

Stop being polite. Stop saying "gee, your coax could be good enough Mr. Comcast, but I’d really appreciate it if you could reduce the over-datacap fee by 10%!"

It will be a long, difficult journey.

With you along for the ride, sabotaging the rest of us the whole trip, I doubt we’ll ever arrive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Point number 3

Coax is 1950s technology

So what? Fiber is 1930s technology. (See the work of Heinrich Lamm; or Manfred Börner in 1965 if you insist on LASER-based data transmission.)

hobbled by companies who don’t even want to be in the internet business.

Cable companies are hobbling it. That has absolutely nothing to do with the technology, which is cabable of delivering upwards of 10 Gbit/s with low latency. Sure, it’s inferior to fiber (and DOCSIS is over-complicated), but that’s far from being anyone’s biggest broadband problem. It’ll be another decade or two before physical-layer technological limits bother anyone.

Cable companies should be installing fiber for all new service. But they’re still cable companies; they’re gonna hobble that just as they do with co-ax.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Re: the internet is a utility

You can’t live a modern lifestyle without the internet, which puts it in the same class as water and power. Hey you could live without water and power if you wanted to be a caveman.

So the internet should be regulated as a utility. And there’s more justification for it vs water and power because the US government invented the internet. Why has private enterprise been allowed to hijack it at all? Why shouldn’t every American get free internet considering that our (well our parents and grandparents) taxes were used to invent it?

Upstream (profile) says:

I filled out the form, but . . .

It will take an absolute flood of complaints (as in "break the Internet" kind of flood) to stand even a snowball’s chance of making a difference. It will be nigh impossible to generate enough public outrage to cause that flood. I also don’t see this issue as being high on the Harris / Biden list of grandstanding / pandering topics.

Anonymous Coward says:

first thing is to agree with the heading. the broadband really is crap! the likes of AT&T have had billions in tax payer funds to make USA broadband a world beater but all that money has gone into the pockets of the bosses and the shareholders. absolutely the least has been done to keep our broadband running, let alone improve it! the biggest problem is those in government who are more interested in lining their pockets than sorting this problem out and the ISPs are only too glad to carry on. every time a new company comes along that tries to do improvements or even start from scratch, along come the incumbent lobbyists who persuade the law makers etc to kill things before they even get going! if the main ‘players’ wont do what they’re supposed to, in reasonable time frames, they should definitely NOT have the ear of government bent to refuse the best thing ever, COMPETITION! and when those ISPs wanna stop the use of THEIR poles etc, remind them of where the money originally came from!!

Evil Timmy (profile) says:

Speed Test?

Couldn’t they accomplish crowd-sourcing a ton of data by setting up a speed test, like Speedtest.net / Ookla / Speakeasy, the same tools we use? Combine that with voluntary zipcode info and tying speed data to each ISP’s netblock, you could get a real picture of speed and availability, even digging down to primetime network congestion (that 100Mbit doesn’t matter if it doesn’t deliver when you’re actually home).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: telecom failures

there is NO reason why we should have the WORST internet in the world!

There is a reason, political patronage at the senior levels of regulatory agencies, which has resulted in their capture as short term jobs leads to people having their eye out for the next job, along with changes in objectives with every change of administration.

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