There Have Been Decades Of Broadband Policy And Subsidies And We’re Only Just Now Accurately Measuring Their Impact

from the can't-fix-what-you-can't-measure dept

This FCC this week formally announced it had finally started gathering more accurate broadband mapping data from U.S. ISPs after more than a decade of complaints about mapping accuracy.

“On June 30, the Federal Communications Commission opened the first ever window to collect information from broadband providers in every state and territory about precisely where they provide broadband services,” FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel stated in a press release.

“For the first time ever, we have collected extensive location-by-location data on precisely where broadband services are available, and now we are ready to get to work and start developing new and improved broadband maps,” she added.

Think about that for a moment. Decades of broadband policy and programs, and countless billions in taxpayer subsidies, and we only just started accurately trying to figure out if those efforts actually made a difference. It’s not a landmark the gadget and gossip obsessed tech press will give much attention to, but it matters all the same.

We’ve noted many times how there’s an historic amount of money being thrown at the U.S. broadband “digital divide” this year. The broadband infrastructure bill alone designates $42 billion to expanding broadband access. Billions more in COVID relief money started flowing this week courtesy of the Treasury Department.

The problem: the government still doesn’t actually know where broadband is or isn’t available because U.S. broadband maps “stink,” as one senator put it a few years ago. They overstate speeds, availability, and competition, helping U.S. telecom monopolies obscure the market harms of mindless consolidation and the corruption that historically protects it.

The FCC only in the last few years finally started fixing its shitty mapping after Congress demanded it as part of the Broadband DATA Act. It demands the FCC use more crowdsourced data, do a better job confirming data delivered by ISPs, and utilize better methodology (the FCC long declared an entire census block “served” with broadband if an ISP claimed it could provide broadband to just one home in that census block).

There’s still plenty of work to be done. States tell me the FCC hasn’t yet really provided an effective way to let states challenge ISP data they know to be false (though the FCC is working on it). Big ISPs lobbyists are also working overtime doing everything they can to ensure looming subsidies go to them and not to smaller competitors or community broadband efforts.

Because the telecom lobby has successfully gridlocked the appointment of third Democratic Commissioner Gigi Sohn to the FCC, the agency may not be able to finalize a confirmation vote for the new maps, putting funding at risk. They also will lack the voting majority needed to meaningfully hold ISPs accountable should it be found they’re not cooperating with accurate data.

Still, given we’ve gone decades making policy and subsidy funding decisions based on little more than delusion and pipe dreams, the fact that government is even trying to take this seriously is a step in the right direction for broader broadband access and increased competition. You can’t fix a problem you can’t measure, and for decades U.S. broadband policymakers were in the dark.

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Comments on “There Have Been Decades Of Broadband Policy And Subsidies And We’re Only Just Now Accurately Measuring Their Impact”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I work in government and sometimes it amazes you. I suspect the problem here is that no one really wanted to know if the money was used well. Politicians routinely sell the public’s tax dollars for mere pennies back in contributions. For example, some company contributes $50K to a campaign and they wind up getting millions in subsidies back. Politicians want the contributions and no will ever notice the subsidies, tax cut, or whatever buried in the trillions that is our budget.

And no one in the process cares, because, frankly, no one in the process cares.

ECA (profile) says:

I love the complaint

That China is assisting their Corps to get ahead.
Then I remind other in this country how many banks, airlines, ISP’s and many other companies and corps the USA has SAVED.

AND still the prices keep going up for some odd reasoning. A person in the 1920(?) made a statement, “that a 3% increase in the economy yearly is a sign we are doing well”, is what it suggests. BUT WE DONT NEED TO INCREASE anything 3% per year.
There is only 1 reason for such an increase. All those Top wage earners and middlemen get a Wage increase. And after you go up the lines from the bottom, It becomes Allot of money.

COLA(cost of living allowance) keeps getting changed on how to estimate it.,ET.

Monthly chart, is interesting for a few reasons, they Always Average it. Which really isnt fair to the consumer. you can start a year in 1-2% and end the year in 10% and avg only 5%. That dont work very well. As at the end of the year the Corps raised prices 10%, not 5%. But will they raise wages For all these averages?

lets look at 10 years of avg., 3.2,2.1,1.5,1.6,0.1,1.3,2.1,2.4,1.8,1.2,4.7.
in 10 years its gone up 22%, and Min wage has done WHAT? And thats an Avg. based on Business reports.
IMO, we should stop The raising prices and re-balance the system.
Fixing the system would just piss off all the companies and corps.

Pseudonymous Coward says:

A welcome step... but.

Let me begin by saying that improved information about where broadband is and isn’t available is absolutely welcome.

But I’d argue that nothing being done now can possibly allow for meaningful evaluation of the impact of historical policies and subsidies.

If you want to understand the impact of a policy intervention, you need reliable data from both before and after that intervention.

The current efforts to improve mapping will (with a following wind) provide a reliable picture of the situation now – i.e. after all those historic policy interventions. What they cannot do is provide a similarly reliable picture of the situation before those interventions.

So we’ll just never know how much (or, being realistic, how little) was really delivered by all those decades of subsidies and tax breaks. Which is so very convenient for all the Telcos that benefited from them.

What improved maps can do, though, is establish a robust baseline against which the impacts of future initiatives can be measured.

Of course, whether anyone actually follows through and does the necessary evaluation will likely depend on a range of things, including future occupants of the White House.

Sarah Lai Stirland (user link) says:

Here's how to really measure broadband is integrating three different speed tests and working with the Marconi Society’s Broadband Mapping Coalition to enable local communities to create their own maps to challenge what the incumbent monopolies are claiming. And we’re using the practices recommended by the key academics who have studied how best to use speed tests, and in what contexts. See:
Community Broadband Kit
and tribal communications + BBM and Detroiters doing a broadband audit

Hope you’ll explore what we’re up to, Karl. You’re always welcome to check out our maps.

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