Big ISPs Lobby To Kill Attempts At More Accurate Broadband Mapping

from the it's-not-a-problem-if-you-can't-see-it dept

For years, the FCC's "Form 477" data collection program has required that ISPs provide data on where they provide broadband service. Said data then helps determine the pace of broadband deployment and level of competition in key markets, informing FCC policy and broadband subsidy application. Unfortunately, this data collection process relies heavily on census block data, which doesn't always clarify which specific addresses in these large segments can actually get service. This has proven handy for ISPs looking to obfuscate their refusal to upgrade broadband networks in many areas.

This inaccurate data collection is a major reason for the Kafka-esque experience many new homeonwers have when they're told their new home will have broadband service, only to discover it doesn't. Last August, the then-Tom-Wheeler-run FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (pdf), seeking public input on changing the Form 477 program so it tracked individual addresses, providing a far more accurate picture of U.S. broadband deployment. At the time, the FCC admitted that it historically hasn't done a good job ensuring this data matches reality, aka the "consumer experience":

The Commission to date has not systematically examined the precise underlying methodologies that are used by service providers in generating their data nor has it investigated whether actual consumer experience has diverged substantially from the Form 477 filings. Moreover, providers’ minimum advertised or expected speeds have, to date, been treated as confidential, limiting the ability of policymakers and consumers to compare offerings among service providers from this data collection.

In other words, the FCC was acknowledging that our broadband maps aren't very accurate, and the FCC hasn't done a very good job holding ISPs accountable for dubious availability data or flawed methodology.

Not too surprisingly, large ISPs have come out swinging against the previous FCC's attempts to improve things. In a filing with the FCC (pdf), Verizon tried to argue that more accurate data collection would be an undue burden on the company:

The Commission should reject any proposals that would require fixed broadband providers to report deployment data below the census-block level. Such proposals would impose enormous costs on fixed broadband providers without providing any real benefit to the Commission or the public.

Verizon fails to document the "enormity" of having to do a modestly better job telling the FCC where it provides broadband, or the fact that a painful lack of competition in the sector -- and the inability to determine how extensive the problem is -- helps pad duopolist revenues. Similarly, the NCTA -- the cable industry's biggest lobbying group -- cites ambiguous additional costs in opposing the improved mapping in its own filing (pdf):

...the Commission must ensure that the costs of any new broadband data collection requirements do not outweigh the benefits. With respect to the Form 477, the Commission should avoid collecting data that is so detailed or voluminous that it is expensive for providers to produce, difficult for the Commission to process, or unhelpful to the public.

Of course it's not really the added costs that are worrying these providers. Better mapping means a more accurate picture of where these industry giants have refused to provide service or upgrade last-generation connections. That would be of considerable concern to Verizon, which has been under fire for years for taking taxpayer subsidies in exchange for fiber that never gets delivered, and for outright refusing to upgrade or repair millions of aging DSL lines it clearly no longer wants to service. Less accurate census-block data also makes it easier to obfuscate the overall lack of competition in the U.S. broadband industry.

Given the current FCC's tendency to rubber stamp every whim of incumbent broadband providers, it seems more than likely that Ajit Pai and friends will scuttle this improved mapping effort proposed by the previous FCC. If you have a better understanding of the scope of a problem, you might then ponder actually doing something about it -- and we certainly wouldn't want that.

Filed Under: broadband, fcc, mapping
Companies: ncta, verizon

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  1. icon
    Dirkmaster (profile), 20 Oct 2017 @ 9:21am

    Re: ISPs are incompetent at mapping it

    Yeah, I have FIOS too (Now Frontier, alas), and I love how they send their salespeople out without the list of the houses that are already subscribers, so hey know on the doors of their existing customers. Happens about once a month here.

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