FCC Fixes Giant Error Over-Stating Broadband Availability... Then Doubles Down On Bogus Claims

from the ill-communication dept

Back in March, the Pai FCC proclaimed that new FCC data indicated that the agency's decision to effectively neuter itself at telecom lobbyist behest was resulting in vast, wonderful benefits for American consumers. According to the FCC, its blind fealty to AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast quickly resulted in massive steps toward "closing the digital divide," something Pai has repeatedly claimed is the top priority of his tenure:

"For the past two years, closing the digital divide has been the FCC’s top priority,” Chairman Pai said. “We’ve been tackling this problem by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Connect America Fund. This report shows that our approach is working. But we won’t rest until all Americans can have access to broadband and the 21st century opportunities it provides to communities everywhere."

While the FCC didn't release any hard data to support the claim its policies are creating telecom Utopia, it did bandy about some cherry-picked stats that in no way showed what the FCC claimed. For example, while the FCC tried to claim that 2018 was a "record year" in fiber deployment thanks to its "deregulatory" policies (like killing net neutrality), it failed to note that about half of the 6 million fiber lines deployed last year were thanks to conditions affixed to the AT&T DirecTV merger by the previous FCC (kinda the opposite of deregulation).

The Pai FCC's claims had other holes. For example much of the data it used to suggest broadband growth was exploding thanks to killing net neutrality was collected -- before net neutrality was actually formally repealed (June 2018). And about 1.9 million new subscriber growth was subsequently discovered to be thanks to a clerical error. I'd been wondering if this FCC would actually fix that error before it released a broader report, and to its credit, the agency did. But when the agency issued a press release saying it had fixed the problem, it failed to address the countless other flaws in its claims.

And while the FCC still hasn't released the underlying full report, the agency continues to double down on its underlying claim that regulatory capture is some kind of modern miracle for those without broadband:

"We’re pleased that the FCC’s policy of making deployment data open and transparent to the public resulted in this error being discovered. Fortunately, the new data doesn’t change the report’s fundamental conclusion: we are closing the digital divide, which means we’re delivering on the FCC’s top priority. We’re achieving this result by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Universal Service Fund programs"

But again, that's not at all what's been happening. The "support" Pai has provided for programs like the USF has been to slowly but surely kneecap them, including efforts to ban tribal areas from getting broadband subsidies, a move the courts slapped down for not being supported by factual data and evidence (maybe you'll notice a trend). And by targeting consumer protections like net neutrality (a move that also stripped away much of the FCC's authority over ISPs), Pai's FCC made it easier than ever for ISPs to nickel-and-dime captive customers in barely competitive markets without repercussion.

The way to fix American broadband is to embrace policies that fix the sector's biggest problem: a lack of competition. You'll notice however that Pai routinely just plain old never mentions this problem or the sky-high prices and terrible customer service that results. Instead, this FCC insists it can miraculously fix the sector's problems via industry cronyism, the exact policy approach that gave America Comcast customer support. And when the agency attempts to prove this claim, it leans heavily on data that proves nothing of the sort.

Filed Under: aji pai, broadband, clerical errors, digital divide, fcc, net neutrality


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 7 May 2019 @ 7:05am

    Dystopian "Truth isn't truth", "alt-facts" and "lack of broadband availability means there's lots of it" is just Pai for the course.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 7:16am

      Re:

      Wouldn't it be simpler to just call it 'spin'? Of course, the difference between spin and lie is minuscule.

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

      • identicon
        I.T Guy, 7 May 2019 @ 9:34am

        Re: Re:

        To embrace the current regime's terminology... Fake News. Call it what you will. I prefer to call it what it is when it comes from government. Propaganda.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 7 May 2019 @ 7:27am

    Well spin could result in a curve ball, or screwball or even a knuckle ball. This level of spin results in a duck billed platypus.

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

  • icon
    M_Bison (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 8:07am

    Request for article.

    This is all BS.

    FCC claimed that 19.4 million people don't have access to broadband. Now they're claiming that that number was a mistake and that the real number is 21.3 million, calling the 1.9 million a 'dramatic overstatement'.

    Microsoft claims that it's closer to 162 million. And Microsoft is right. Please do a follow-up article that clarifies that all of the FCC data is complete and utter BS. For example, I live in an area in the Portland metro area with speeds of 1.5Mbps (still faster than 10Mbps satellite). I have been rendered invisible by the maps which list me as having gigabit service (987Mbps).

    The FCC broadband maps hallucinate speeds and ISP availability. This stems from their working definition of the word “available.” The FCC defines an internet connection to be “available” for an area if the ISP could serve at least one premises without an extraordinary commitment of resources. (An “extraordinary commitment of resources” is undefined.) Defining “available” in this way does not match our English understanding of the word and leads to maps that are intentionally misleading and useless for research.

    Ask for different data.

    Industry advocates (ranging from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Microsoft) suggest that we collect information on the connections that are actively being provided instead. For example, address, connection speed, and connection type.

    This information is readily available to every ISP, and with it we can ask the questions that we can’t ask today. Namely; how many people benefited from a grant? How many households in Wallowa county are sold a broadband internet connection? And then you can use random sampling to gauge customer speeds. None of those questions can be addressed with the data that we currently collect.

    See the recent report from Blandin Foundation: “Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Exchanges Left Underserved.” "We predict the vast majority of households touched by the Connect America Fund will rapidly need another large subsidy to achieve high-quality Internet access." (ILSR report)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 8:45am

      Re: Request for article.

      I am just happy to see video game characters living in the modern world with internet speed and computers among their top problems instead of head and joint problems due to the numerous fights they have been in over the years.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 11:18am

      Re: Request for article.

      How many households in Wallowa county are sold a broadband internet connection?

      Actual speeds aren't the same as availability. It would be a good start, but doesn't tell you whether people don't subscribe due to lack of availability, price/terms/etc., or simply because they don't have a computer.

      Eg: my current connection doesn't meet the "broadband" definition. My DSL can support broadband, but I'm already at the maximum upload speed and didn't want a less symmetrical connection. Cable's available but without static IPs; fiber's available, but no third-party providers can use it and I won't deal with the incumbent. Government studies tend to show everything is great.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 8:22am

    Pai's tenure has been the embodiment of the saying "Don't piss on my boot and tell me its raining"

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 8:50am

    Critical progress reports should not rely on the “hypothetical” when it comes to reaching a conclusion. Analysis based on data that shows the current state of “Broadband Progress,” not misinterpreted measurements and cavalier explications of Congressional intent that tilts the scale against the needs of the consumer longing for broadband is what we need. Indeed, the deployments the majority loudly touts pale greatly in comparison to the deployments that occurred in the year after the adoption of the 2015 Open Internet Order. But if you are desperate to justify flawed policy, I think the straw-grasping conclusions contained in this report is for you.
    I dissent.

    -- Mignon Clyburn, final paragraph of her official statement on the 2018 Broadband Deployment Report(pdf)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 9:14am

    through our Connect America Fund

    through our Universal Service Fund

    Which is it? Is one name an umbrella that covers the other? Allow me to suggest an alternate name that covers all such funds:

    the Telecom Bonus Program Fund

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

  • icon
    ThatDevilTech (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 9:52am

    Fiber deployment

    I live in a city of about 75,000 in Northeast Texas that is not part of the DFW Metro area, I'm closer to Louisiana. We've had AT&T and contractors laying what looks to be Fiber throughout the city for several months now. At least that's what the white/orange poles say everywhere. They've been laying them alongside all major roads, but from what I can tell have not gone near the actual housing. I don't know if they will.

    They can say they've put the fiber in the ground, but as far as I can tell my AT&T Internet is still slower than dirt. The cable provider had better speeds, but they instituted data caps. We jumped to AT&T with no data cap because we have DirecTv and AT&T phones.

    Maybe someday they'll actually connect the fiber to our CO at the end of the street. But, that won't help the aging phone lines coming into my home.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 10:05am

    I was excited for Google and its high speed option. It looks like it was going to be a game changer. But the the old ISPs even managed to beat google into submission.
    Now Elon's new Starlink internet looks rather interesting. While I am not as excited as I was with Google's due to being burned already. It looks promising. I like the idea that there isn't a single thing the legacy ISPs can do to prevent you from hooking up. The 15ms connection also means that gamers won't have an issue with latency. I think it has the potential to be a game changer that I was expecting from Google Fiber.
    I am excited about this even though I am someone who does have access to 150Mbps speeds.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 11:44am

      Re:

      The 15ms connection also means that gamers won't have an issue with latency.

      Don't count your chickens before they've hatched. That won't be 15ms from your computer to every other computer. That's 15ms on top of whatever the latency is between Starlink's terrestrial transceiver stations and whatever host you're trying to communicate with. Generally it will be 15ms on top of whatever your current latency is. 15ms additional latency is not insignificant in gaming and chances are most Starlink connections will have a noticeably higher overall latency than their wired counterparts.

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

      • icon
        Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 4:47pm

        Actually…

        …15 ms is also the typical latency of the first hop in
        wired connections (and in fact is the low end,) so
        we can reasonably expect the full range of latencies
        to be equivalent to the same of wired connections.

        You're comparing apples to apples and finding them
        equivalent on the first hop. ‌ Further upstream there
        is necessarily another 15 ms hop to ground but even
        that is typically on the low end for equivalent fiber nets.

        One difference that may interest you is that the orbital
        infrastructure which carries packets for most of the trip is
        close to 33% quicker due to physics. ‌ Fiber propagates
        at only ⅔ of the speed of light so latencies in space get
        a boost, racing ahead of fiber over greater distances.

        Latencies will, therefore, be comparable or better.

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

      • icon
        Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 7 May 2019 @ 7:39pm

        Actually…

        …15 ms is also the typical latency of the first hop in
        wired connections (and in fact is the low end,) so
        we can reasonably expect the full range of latencies
        to be equivalent to the same of wired connections.

        You're comparing apples to apples and finding them
        equivalent on the first hop. ‌ Further upstream there
        is necessarily another 15 ms hop to ground but even
        that is typically on the low end for equivalent fiber nets.

        One difference that may interest you is that the orbital
        infrastructure which carries packets for most of the trip is
        close to 33% quicker due to physics. ‌ Fiber propagates
        at only ⅔ of the speed of light so latencies in space get
        a boost, racing ahead of fiber over greater distances.

        Latencies will, therefore, be comparable or better.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 May 2019 @ 12:17pm

      Re:

      Note, if you live in a high density city, Starlink will only have the capacity for about 10% of the Internet traffic, so it is likely to get congested quickly.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 May 2019 @ 2:05am

    'Being paid by' doesn't always equate to 'working for'

    The way to fix American broadband is to embrace policies that fix the sector's biggest problem: a lack of competition. You'll notice however that Pai routinely just plain old never mentions this problem or the sky-high prices and terrible customer service that results. Instead, this FCC insists it can miraculously fix the sector's problems via industry cronyism, the exact policy approach that gave America Comcast customer support.

    Which is only confusing and/or surprising if you're under the mistaken impression that Pai believes that he's there to serve the public. If you operate under the assumption that he doesn't give a damn about the public and is only interested in solving the 'problems'(like 'competition', 'not being able to do whatever they want', stuff like that) of his former/future employers then his actions make perfect sense, because he's sure as hell working overtime to get rid of those.

    Work under the assumption that he believes that his job is to serve the public, and at best he's monumentally incompetent, utterly clueless, and incapable of understanding even basic facts.

    Work under the assumption that he believes that his job is to serve the companies, and his actions make perfect, if completely sleazy and corrupt, sense.

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


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