Much Of The Broadband Growth Ajit Pai Credits To Killing Net Neutrality Was Actually Due To A Clerical Error

from the whoops-a-daisy dept

So a few weeks ago we noted how the Ajit Pai FCC has been trying to pretend that some modest recent broadband growth is directly thanks to its unpopular policies -- like killing net neutrality. Except a closer look at the report shows the data they used was only accurate up to the tail end of 2017, when net neutrality wasn't even formally repealed until June of 2018 (read: the growth couldn't have been due to killing net neutrality yet, because it hadn't technically happened yet). A lot of the "record fiber growth" Pai also tried to credit his policies for was actually courtesy of the fiber build-out conditions affixed to the AT&T DirecTV merger by the previous FCC.

In short, Pai's office has been falsely taking credit for some modest industry growth in broadband availability it had nothing to actually do with. And in a few instances, the FCC tried to claim that broadband growth was due to "deregulation," when market intervention (merger conditions) was actually to thank.

Now some deeper analysis shows that another huge chunk of Pai's supposed broadband growth was thanks to a... clerical error. A deeper analysis of the FCC's broadband growth numbers by consumer group Free Press showed that a company by the name of Barrier Communications Corporation appears to have dramatically overstated its broadband deployment during the period in question by a cool 1.5 million locations:

"When conducting our initial analysis of the December 2017 Form 477 Deployment data, we noticed that a new Form 477 filer, Barrier Communications Corporation (d/b/a BarrierFree), claimed deployment of fiber-to-the-home (“FTTH”) and fixed wireless services (each at downstream/upstream speeds of 940 Mbps/880 Mbps) to Census blocks containing nearly 62 million persons. This claimed level of deployment would make BarrierFree the fourth largest U.S. ISP in terms of population coverage – an implausible suggestion, to put it mildly.

This claimed level of deployment stood out to us for numerous reasons, including the impossibility of a new entrant going from serving zero Census blocks as of June 30, 2017, to serving nearly 1.5 million blocks containing nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population in just six months time. We further examined the underlying Form 477 data and discovered that BarrierFree appears to have simply submitted as its coverage area a list of every single Census block in each of eight states in which it claimed service: CT, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VA.

When contacted by Ars Technica, the company in question acknowledged it had made an error when filing form 477 data with the FCC, saying the data was "parsed incorrectly in the upload process." The impact was notable, with roughly 1.5 million of the supposed 5.6 million "new" areas where 25Mbps/3Mbps speeds had been deployed never having actually existed. As noted previously, the growth Pai credits to his own "deregulatory" agenda was actually well in line with past, pre-Pai periods, and in some instances actually slower. Once you factor in all of these errors the claims get even less impressive.

Of course the formal study Pai's basing these numbers on hasn't been fully released yet. These were all just claims made in an initial FCC press release featuring very-carefully chosen statistics. Whether these and other errors are fixed in the final report (which should drop later this month or early next) should give you a good luck at just how much the current FCC actually values data integrity.

Filed Under: ajit pai, broadband, fcc, growth, net neutrality
Companies: barrier communications, free press


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  1. icon
    katsai (profile), 12 Mar 2019 @ 5:22pm

    A likely excuse

    Really? You're going with "the data was 'parsed incorrectly in the upload process'"? How does that even happen? Is that even possible? Someone with more experience than me in submitting forms to the FCC please chime in.


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