Telecom Lobby Suddenly Pretends To Care About Accurate Broadband Maps

from the ill-communication dept

For a country that likes to talk about "being number one" a lot, that's sure not reflected in the United States' broadband networks, or the broadband maps we use to determine which areas lack adequate broadband or competition (resulting in high prices and poor service). Our terrible broadband maps are, of course, a feature not a bug; ISPs have routinely lobbied to kill any efforts to improve data collection and analysis, lest somebody actually realize the telecom market is a broken mono/duopoly whose dysfunction reaches into every aspect of tech.

If you want to see our terrible broadband maps at work, you need only go visit the FCC's $350+ million broadband availability map, which is based on the Form 477 data collected from ISPs. If you plug in your address, you'll find that not only does the FCC not include prices (at industry behest), the map hallucinates speed and ISP availability at most U.S. addresses. Part of the problem is that the FCC declares an entire region "served" with broadband if just one home in a census block has service. Again, ISPs fight efforts to reform this in a bid to protect the status quo.

Curiously, USTelecom (which is a policy and lobbying vessel for AT&T and Verizon) last week launched a new PR campaign in which they now profess to be immensely troubled by the country's terrible broadband maps. As such, in an editorial over at CNET, the group stated it's now "leading the charge" in better broadband mapping via several new trials it's conducting in Missouri and Virginia:

"USTelecom is leading the charge on a new, more precise, approach to broadband reporting and mapping. We have proposed to Congress and regulatory agencies a method to create a public-private partnership to map America's broadband infrastructure so policymakers and providers can better target scarce funding to communities with limited or no service options."

Again, one would be inclined to actually believe that if they hadn't watched this same organization routinely try to scuttle better broadband mapping efforts or deny the industry's competition and availability issues for the better part of the last two decades.

The plan itself is rather vague. In it, USTelecom proclaims that it will use "multiple sources of address, building, and parcel data" to create "a broadband serviceable location fabric" to better identify where broadband is available, and where it isn’t. But consumer group analysts who've fought for years for better mapping told me they believe the real goal of USTelecom's latest gambit isn't really better data, it's preventing outside researchers and journalists from confirming the accuracy of said data:

"The voluntary, AT&T and Verizon-led USTelecom idea has the potential to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s data, but it appears this methodology will produce far less transparent data that cannot be systematically verified and utilized by researchers,” (Derek) Turner said. “We are suspicious of the motivations of USTelecom, because their approach of using ISP-supplied address-level data is an idea its members have vigorously opposed since the FCC began collecting data."

The telecom lobby (and many industry lobbyists) enjoy this tactic where as soon as the groundswell of support reaches a certain fevered pitch, they'll push their own solution. Not because they really want to fix the problem, but because they want to pre-empt better, more transparent solutions they won't like. It's a tactic that many telecom-loyal politicians have been attempting with fake net neutrality laws designed to do one thing: pre-empt tougher, better state or federal proposals.

With $4.5 billion in new broadband subsidies on the line, politicians have ramped up the pressure on the FCC to fix the problem before doling out yet more taxpayer money. The Telecom industry, concerned about data that can further showcase telecom sector market failure, clearly hope to beat these efforts to the punch, with numerous caveats and restrictions. When I pressed USTelecom as to whether they'd support making this new data transparent to journalists, researchers, and the public, the group wouldn't answer, and would only punt to the Ajit Pai FCC:

"This is an industry-funded pilot program that the consortium will share first with the FCC when complete,” a USTelecom spokesperson said. “If the FCC adopts this new approach on a national basis, they will determine data availability."

Granted if you've been paying attention at home, you'd know by now that the industry-friendly FCC's reputation for data transparency is not what you'd call stellar. So if the telecom lobby genuinely wants better broadband mapping data, that's great. But if the entire purpose of the plan is to make it harder than ever to independently confirm the industry's speed and availability claims -- or two pre-empt better plans crafted via a coalition of objective experts -- it could actually just making the country's broadband mapping problem worse.

Filed Under: broadband, fcc, isp
Companies: at&t, ustelecom, verizon


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 10:36am

    Collusion or Conspiracy?

    "...USTelecom (which is a policy and lobbying vessel for AT&T and Verizon) ..."

    It's the 'policy' part of that description that bothers me. according to Wikipedia the difference is:

    "For a secret agreement by people to commit something criminally or civilly wrong or illegal, see Conspiracy. For other uses, see Collusion (disambiguation)."

    So, which is it? They both have anti net-neutrality policies. They both have below the line charges. They both have means to supply content without impacting impertinent and unneeded data usage caps, etc.. Having a policy (probably advisory, but how often is the advice ignored?) entity common to both organizations seems like they are trying get around the legal requirements that they not collude or conspire seems fishy at the very, very best.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2019 @ 12:44pm

      Re: Collusion or Conspiracy?

      Having a policy...entity common to both organizations seems like they are trying get around the legal requirements that they not collude or conspire seems fishy at the very, very best.

      Of course it's fishy—we're talking about the big telecoms—but you can bet they "donated" to all the right people to make sure it's not illegal.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2019 @ 10:53am

    Why upgrade when you can lie

    Someone must have caught word that broadband penetration will be looked at when considering investments.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Apr 2019 @ 11:03am

    "USTelecom is leading the charge on a new, more precise, approach to broadband reporting and mapping.

    Don't the companies they represent already have accurate data down to each premises served, and spare cables/fibers/pairs in each roadside cabinet? There should be no need for anything other than the companies agreeing to feed that data into a common database.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 12:27pm

      Re:

      Dont you love the logic of the Corp to bury any data??

      Who remembers the Old Cellphone maps.?

      Then HOW to sort them..Copper/Fiber/Wireless/Cellphone..
      It would be great to have ALL the info, But we wont get it,and neither will the customers..
      Google had to fight the demons from hell to get things done. fighting the corp/state/county/cities to get things done. But they were considering something OTHERS HADNT DONE... Installing upgrades over time SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE.. Installing Pipes/PVC/... to have underground connections Should have been there years ago. it makes it easy to upgrade and repair. The original lines from 40 years ago, were still there..

      So, you have to do a FULL installation, of new lines everywhere..
      The only repairs tend to be 'If its broken'..and that OLD wire LASTS ALONG time(underground), and the lines mounted on poles? Unless the pole Gets damaged, there isnt a problem..And patching isnt to hard. And Iv seen Telephone poles Older then I AM..

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 1:28pm

      Re:

      Yeah, the idea that providing information as basic as where a company can provide service, at what level, and at what price-point would be at all difficult is beyond absurd and not believable for a second, as that's data that any competent company would already have.

      The companies or their PR fluffers who claim that providing that information would be difficult are either blatantly lying(almost certain) or so grossly incompetent that they have no business being in business(possible, but less likely).

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

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 11:04am

    Thats not how this works...Thats no how any of this works!

    Want an accurate map? Map your nodes. Depending on weather they are copper or fiber, take the distance from the node and do a radius circle. Cross reference a GPS map like Google and walla! You would have a map far more accurate than the current one and spend maybe $50k in making it.

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

  • icon
    murgatroyd (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 11:27am

    I'm shocked - shocked! - to find that gambling is going on in here!

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 12:41pm

    Anyone?

    Raise your hands if you think ANYTHING will get done by corps.. without Being FORCED..
    ....
    Im waiting...
    ....
    Ok, Who thinks this can be done, in a reasonable time and manner, in 5 years?? All of it needs to be underground or Insulated and protected on poles...Raise your hands...
    .....
    Still waiting..Come on..SOME ONE must think this..
    ...
    OK, who here thinks we could put 100,000+ people to WORK installing all this, NEW hardware? and get it DONE..
    1-2-3-4-20-100-1000-10000-.......
    WOW, thats allot of hands..

    (IMO)

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

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 1 Apr 2019 @ 1:20pm

    We have proposed to Congress and regulatory agencies a method to create a public-private partnership to map America's broadband infrastructure so policymakers and providers can better target scarce funding to communities with limited or no service options."

    With $4.5 billion in new broadband subsidies on the line

    Scarce funding huh? The only reason it is scarce for 'communities with limited or no service options' is because they are never will to actually spend the money in those regions.

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

  • identicon
    wutsinterweb, 2 Apr 2019 @ 4:56pm

    More Op-Ed / opinion masquerading as "news". Not even pretending anymore.

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


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