FCC Tries to Bury Report Showing Many Broadband Users Still Don't Get The Speeds They Pay For

from the hiding-it-won't-make-it-go-away dept

So every year like clockwork since 2011 the FCC has released a report naming and shaming ISPs that fail to deliver advertised broadband speeds. The Measuring American Broadband program, which the FCC runs in conjunction with UK firm SamKnows, uses custom-firmware embedded routers in subscriber homes to collect data on real-world speeds (an improvement from years past when the FCC would just take ISPs' at their word).

In the years since, the program has been an effective way to name and shame ISPs that fail to deliver speeds promised to consumers. For example, in the first report, the FCC announced that some ISPs, like New York's Cablevision, had delivered just 50% of advertised speeds during peak hours. By the next report Cablevision had moved to fix its under-provisioning issues, and the FCC found that the company was now offering more bandwidth than advertised at peak hours. In the absence of more competition, simply using real data was a useful way to motivate apathetic regional monopolies to try a little harder.

Of course last year that all changed under Ajit Pai, when the FCC boss refused to release the report at all. After being pressured by telecom beat reporters to explain why, the FCC this week finally released some of the data... buried in the appendix of a much larger report (pdf) few will actually read. The data again showcases how many broadband providers -- mostly telcos selling aging, slow and pricey DSL -- routinely fail to deliver speeds consumers are paying for:

In the years since the program launched, many cable providers have been successfully nudged toward over-provisioning their lines to remain on the FCC's good side (though it should be noted that one cable provider, Charter Spectrum, was busted by the NY AG contemplating ways to game the system). This wasn't particularly hard; DOCSIS 3.1 cable upgrades are relatively inexpensive anyway, and have helped the cable sector deliver gigabit speeds (at least downstream).

The problem is that cable is slowly but surely securing a monopoly over these next-gen speeds because the nation's phone companies no longer really want to be in the fixed-line broadband business. AT&T and Verizon have shifted their focus to wireless, video, and ads, and providers like CenturyLink have shifted their focus to enterprise. As a result, millions of customers are stuck on aging, expensive, (and often unnecessarily usage capped) DSL lines nobody really wants to upgrade because the return on investment is too slow for Wall Street's liking.

The result: less competition, higher prices, slower speeds, and worse customer service as cable secures a monopoly over high speeds. And no, 5G wireless is not going to magically fix these problems, as we've explored previously.

Of course because the Measuring American Broadband program highlighted these issues via a very clear stand alone report, it seems fairly likely that broadband providers didn't much like this. Like so much Pai does (like killing net neutrality rules), burying the report was framed by the FCC head as a noble effort to simply improve agency efficiency. But in a statement to Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin, Pai's fellow Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel seemed unsold on that explanation:

"We're all frustrated when our broadband speed doesn't live up to what was promised," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC's only Democrat, said in a statement to Ars today. "So it's downright unacceptable that the FCC—which has been collecting data on broadband speeds nationwide—is slow to make this information public and, when it does so, buries it in the appendices to a larger report. This is essential data for every consumer in the digital age. The public deserves better."

The attempt to bury belated data in a study appendix nobody will read is just another example of Pai's largely blind fealty to the industry he's supposed to be holding accountable. From the attacks on net neutrality and FCC oversight to his efforts to literally weaken the very definition of competition, Pai continues to be the very best friend any lumbering telecom monopoly could ask for. After all, if you can manipulate or obscure data showing just how broken the US broadband industry is, it's far easier to justify your complete and total apathy toward actually doing anything about it.


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 6:45am

    FCC proves once again they are owned part & parcel by the industry they are supposed to oversee.
    Citizens suffer as even timid regulations are decried as the 2nd coming of satan to an industry with record profits despite not improving their product in decades.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 6:55am

    What are they afraid of ... if there is nothing to hide and all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 7:24am

    First thing I did was download the PDF of the Appendices. Just for the sake of someone eventually noticing 100K downloads of the "buried" part.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kitsune106, 7 Dec 2018 @ 7:28am

    Actually

    won't putting it there actually be called hampering competition?

    Since if Companies don't know there's an open market, they won't compete. I mean, didn't Aji say that the government had to get out of the way of businesses?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 7:36am

    'After all, if you can manipulate or obscure data showing just how broken the US broadband industry is, it's far easier to justify your complete and total apathy toward actually doing anything about it'

    especially, in my opinion, if this leads to some personal gain! just sayin'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 7:40am

    How...

    "In the years since, the program has been an effective way to name and shame ISPs that fail to deliver speeds promised to consumers."

    ...is it that they've been "named and shamed" for almost a decade yet never charged or prosecuted under any of our Fair Trade and Truth In Advertising Laws?

    Those laws were specifically built to prevent this kind of abuse.

    While a Misprison charge is practically unheard of in the US (though often threatened to get officials to do their damned jobs), that law DOES still stand - and as head of the enabling Federal Agency, Pai is subject to them (in theory, anyway...).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 8:52am

      Re: How...

      1) The advertisements are expressly designed to skirt those rules. Their plain language (i.e. 'up to') uses weasel words to use the letter of the law to skirt the spirit. It is one of the reasons Techdirt notes the FTC is ill-equipped to handle Broadband misdeeds, and the foundation of the arguement for regulators with rule makin authority (and broad principles over strict rules). Without solid evidence of a trend of misrepresenting availible speeds, the FTC would not prevail. And they are already overworked enforcing the rigid inflexable laws companies have learned how to skirt.

      2) with the FTC lacking the ability to intervene, and the FCC lacking authority to regulate sales or advertisements, the broadband speed report, as noted, has lead to most ISP's 'overprovisioning', that is, making sure they beat advertised speeds to avoid providing the evidence the FTC would need. And this is good because a broadband speed report holding ISPs accountable is a much more efficient and cost effective way of solving the issue. See NY AG investigations into Charter trying to misrepresent speeds to the FCC as a way this program was holding companies accountable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 11:57am

        Re: Re: How...

        In re 1; I'm familiar with the "up to" ploy, mainly from lasers. 5mw is the legal *maximum* for pointers, so they're sold as a "maximum 5mw output". If you actually WANT a 5mw laser, you pay extra to have one tuned to 4.9xmw.

        But to claim "up to 100mbit" speeds over networks that can not actually support even one 100mbit connection I should think falls outside that dodge.

        If Chevy claimed "up to 500 mpg!" on a car, would anyone believe it? Would they get the same treatment VW got for their diesels?

        In re 2; False advertising and Fraudulent Practices aren't the purview of the FCC - there are other bodies dedicated to those kind of charges.

        But they seem to be "unaware" of what is going on with ISP advertising and fraudulent charges.

        Spectrum just added $9.95 to every cable bill in NY. To cover Broadcast (OTA) channel inclusion. Which, as been pointed out here before, is a basic part of their business - it shouldn't be allowable as a below the line charge.

        But, as I pointed out when the NY AG "threw them out of NY", what actually happened is... bad press and rate hikes. Same old, same old.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 7:46am

    Pai behaves like a child in charge of a toy or candy store.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ben (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 8:28am

      Re:

      No, he behaves like a man ready for a cushy job at a major telecom company when he finally gets kicked out of the FCC for some perceived criticism of Trump (real or otherwise).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        TDR, 7 Dec 2018 @ 10:07am

        Re: Re:

        His fellow commissioners should be allowed to kick him out with a simple majority vote. Why they tolerate him I do not know, as they seem to disagree with just about everything he does. Then again, so does basically everyone who either isn't in government or runs a telecom company.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Dec 2018 @ 1:47pm

    Fish tank

    Love the idea we are in a fish tank depending on OTHERS to feed us information WE PAID FOR..
    Trump is kinda interesting, in that tons of stuff he does is posted by HIM, even when he doesnt do as he SAID he was going to do..
    I Do get the feeling we are missing things in the background, and we arnt USED to seeing this stuff. We are paying attention to the monkey sticking it finger up its butt, and not the Zoo keepers in the background.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Dec 2018 @ 2:04pm

    Better of fcc to employ to cable companies thank you with great job done FCC

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2018 @ 10:40am

    Pai is a scoundrel. I wonder if his children are ashamed of him or think its impressive how he sells out the internet to line his pockets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Elliott W, 8 Dec 2018 @ 6:09pm

    FCC and Mediacom

    FCC is failing once again to hold bad actors accountable. Its really sad that a company like Mediacom can and does not only deliver the promised speeds but a bit more.

    My router checks every single day what the up and down speeds are and EVERY DAY they are above what I am paying for.

    Isn't this CLEARLY false advertising? If you pay for a particular speed you have the right to expect that speed to at least 1 or 2 9's (99.9% or 99.99%). What this looks like is the FCC allowing these companies to under build their infrastructure..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2018 @ 7:37pm

    Stop being a cheapskate

    I find your lack of faith in the free market disturbing. The only reason you do not have the internet, the healthcare, or whatever you want is that you are not willing to pay enough for someone to provide it. You should encourage the companies to raise the rates even more. When you finally pay enough, you will find that you are suddenly getting what you are paying for. Stop being a cheapskate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 10 Dec 2018 @ 2:26am

      Re: Stop being a cheapskate

      What you're describing is a rigged market, not a free one. Competition is supposed to bring prices down but when there's little, if any, we consumers get nickel-and-dimed for All The Things and the only option on the table is "Take it* or leave it.**

      For most of us, the least worst option is all there is. That's not okay, and in no way does either option exist in a market that is actually free.


      *Bend over that barrel and pretend to enjoy it. **Enjoy Stone Age living.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Chip, 10 Dec 2018 @ 8:34am

      Re: Stop being a cheapskate

      I can't "tell" if this Is SATIRE or "not".

      Every Nation eats the Paint chips it "Deserves"!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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