FCC Broadband Report: What Broadband Competition Problem?

from the nothing-to-see-here dept

By law, the FCC is required once a year to issue a report indicating whether quality broadband is being deployed on a "reasonable and timely basis." If not, the agency is supposed to, you know, actually do something about it. Unsurprisingly, the Pai FCC last year issued a glowing report declaring that everything was going swimmingly, despite some glaring evidence to the contrary. After all, the nation's phone companies have effectively stopped upgrading their DSL lines, leaving cable giants like Comcast with a quietly growing monopoly over faster broadband speeds (no, 5G won't magically fix this).

This week, the FCC once again issued a report stating that broadband was being deployed in a reasonable and timely basis. As with the earlier, leaked versions of this report, the FCC has been quick to proclaim that some modest improvement in overall broadband availability was thanks to Pai FCC policies like killing net neutrality:

"According to the FCC’s latest study, the number of Americans lacking access to a broadband (defined by the FCC as 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream) has dropped from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 21.3 million Americans at the end of 2017. The FCC said availability of 250 Mbps connections grew 36 percent in 2017.

“This report shows that our approach is working,” Pai said of the report before it was formally released to the public. “But we won’t rest until all Americans can have access to broadband and the 21st century opportunities it provides to communities everywhere."

But there are several problems with this claim. One, this growth is well in line with past years. Two, much of the growth in the report is thanks to things Pai had nothing to do with. For example, while Pai's FCC takes credit for "record" fiber growth last year, at least half of the lines deployed were thanks to conditions affixed by the previous FCC to AT&T's 2015 merger with DirecTV. Similarly, a not insubstantial portion of the broadband speed and availability improvements are courtesy of community broadband networks Pai's FCC actively opposes. And while Pai has also tried to claim some of the growth is thanks to killing net neutrality, the report's data is only current up to the end of 2017. Net neutrality wasn't officially repealed until June of 2018.

This is all before you get to the fact that none of this data is reliable because US broadband mapping and availability data is hot garbage, something all five Commissioners (after years of complaints) have finally started to acknowledge:

"“We need to stop relying on data we know is wrong,” Rosenworcel said. “Putting aside the embarrassing fumble of the FCC blindly accepting incorrect data for the original version of this report, there are serious problems with its basic methodology. Time and again this agency has acknowledged the grave limitations of the data we collect to assess broadband deployment.”

Gigi Sohn, a lawyer for the previous FCC, told Motherboard in a statement that you can’t fix a problem you don’t really understand.

“The FCC's 2019 Broadband Deployment Report is hopelessly flawed and cannot be the basis for future policymaking,” Sohn said. “Nor does it validate Chairman Pai’s unsubstantiated claims that his policies have helped to close the digital divide."

You'll also note that this report, much like the FCC's $250 million broadband map, fails utterly to even mention the high cost of broadband in the United States. While the FCC obtains pricing data from ISPs, it has long shirked away from sharing this data with the public, lest somebody get a better sense of the hugely negative impact limited competition has on the US market.

Another notable bit of amusement: an earlier draft of Pai's report was found to have been based on an ISP clerical error that resulted in the FCC overstating broadband availability by some 62 million households. When Pai released the initial synopsis of the report, he proclaimed that the near-mystical growth was a direct reflection of his policies. After consumer groups pointed out the errors in the data the FCC quietly fixed the error, but left its conclusions the same. The FCC's newest Commissioner, Geoffrey Starks, found that a little bit odd:

"The fact that a 2019 Broadband Deployment Report with an error of over 62 million connections was circulated to the full Commission raises serious questions. Was the Chairman’s office aware of the errors when it circulated the draft report? If not, why didn’t an “outlier” detection function raise alarms with regard to Barrier Free? Also, once the report was corrected, the fact that such a large number of connections came out of the report’s underlying data without changing the report’s conclusion, and without resulting in a substantial charge to the report, calls into question the extent to which the report and its conclusions depend on and flow from data."

Again, none of this is really new. While the FCC has always had a tenuous relationship with factual data under both parties, Pai's FCC has taken this to an entirely new level. It's clear to pretty much everybody that US broadband is an incredibly broken market dominated by some of the least-liked natural monopolies in America. But Pai has yet to stand up to telecom giants on a single issue of substance, and his FCC has been caught repeatedly just blindly using massaged telecom lobbyist data to justify policies that have been widely criticized, on a bipartisan basis, for making existing problems (particularly high prices) worse.

Filed Under: ajit pai, competition, fcc, net neutrality


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Jun 2019 @ 4:50am

    As the saying (roughly) goes...

    'It is difficult to get an FCC commissioner to understand something, when his future employment/'retirement' opportunities depend on him (claiming not to) understand it.'

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2019 @ 8:03am

      Re: As the saying (roughly) goes...

      The funny part is he doesn't look like Forrest Gump, but he acts exactly like I would expect a real Gump level IQ person to be acting.

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

      • identicon
        TFG, 3 Jun 2019 @ 9:14am

        Re: Re: As the saying (roughly) goes...

        No he doesn't. He's not honest enough to be acting in a Gump fashion.

        Pai is acting exactly like I would expect an intelligent but amoral person in his position to act. He knows the truth, he knows that his claims are bullshit, he knows that the data is bad, but he will never admit that because he gets money, or will get money, to not do so.

        He knows exactly what he is doing. As much that one razor says incompetence is more likely than malice, I don't accord this man that benefit.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2019 @ 6:34am

    By law, the FCC is required once a year to issue a report indicating whether quality broadband is being deployed on a "reasonable and timely basis."

    Would be nice if there was something in the law also requiring the FCC to tell the truth in said report.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2019 @ 7:20am

    [...] has dropped from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 21.3 million Americans at the end of 2017

    Ah, the Ministry of Plenty at its best.

    “The FCC's 2019 Broadband Deployment Report is hopelessly flawed

    The report is pure propaganda and should be called out as such.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 3 Jun 2019 @ 10:49am

    This is ...interesting.

    You have a story about "broadband" (a broadband report), yet you don't file it with a "broadband" tag. Or is that something that only seems to me like an obvious thing to do?

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 3 Jun 2019 @ 11:06am

      Re:

      It's not that interesting. The explanation is simple: the site's used thousands of tags over the years, and is run by imperfect humans who are not always able to immediately conjure a complete list of previously-used tags that are pertinent to a given article.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Jun 2019 @ 10:56am

    If only we could force Congress & the commissioners to have the same level of service the rest of us 'enjoy'. But they seem to expect having direct lines to people high up up in companies who will do cartwheels to keep them happy is the best way to understand how us common folks live.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Jun 2019 @ 6:31pm

      Re:

      The people you complain about are on the private charted flights.

      Now shut up and get back in the long security line. You will have your undersized uncomfortable economy seat as soon as we can get your security check completed. Please, bend over.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 3 Jun 2019 @ 12:59pm

    Anyone wonder how many people are working on this.?

    Really..
    Who is working under these folks, and why dont they have the equipment to test any of this?
    I see cable guys checking lines from a truck in the alley..
    Iv seen the equipment they use to test the lines for internet, cable TV, Phone..
    The FCC should have 1000's of people working for them, TRYING to discover the truth...NOT listening to the Crops on what they have done.

    anyone old enough know HOW cellphone service went up. IT WAS CRAP. Al lthe promises and Maps were WRONG.. i can still show you Holes inthe system and coverage.(I would love my bag phone being upgraded to digital, but you cant get those now)(OMG they still have them)..
    Who thinks anything NEW in cellphones is not going to be better?? I loved my Analog phones...allot better then digital. and worked everywhere, and plug into the car battery, if needed.

    I love to point out to many people that the Gov. paid for almost every advancement in this nation. The corps have done little, except to reap the harvest of what was created After..
    the hard part about this, is that We have paid for the improivements, but the corps do things SLOWLY, they wont hire 10,000 men/women to do the work in a few years..

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.