Microsoft Again Slams America's Shaky Broadband Maps

from the you-can't-fix-a-problem-you-don't-understand dept

We've long noted how US telecom policy never really accomplishes much because the underlying data we use to make decisions is hot garbage. The FCC doesn't really spend much time fact checking industry availability and speed claims, resulting in coverage maps that hugely overstate broadband speed, availability, and overall competition. When efforts to improve US broadband mapping pop up, the telecom sector routinely lobbies to kill them, lest somebody actually get a good idea of the broken state of US telecom.

Outside of consumers and consumer groups, nobody much cares about this perpetual dance of dysfunction. One lone exception has been Microsoft, which has been increasingly highlighting the shaky quality of US broadband mapping data. Microsoft has been a major backer of White Space broadband, which utilizes the spectrum freed by the migration to digital television as a new emerging broadband option.

In a recent blog post the company argued that the FCC is potentially overstating US broadband (defined by the FCC as 25 Mbps downstream) availability on a fairly epic scale. In part because the agency isn't verifying ISP claims, but also because when an ISP serves just one home in a census block, the FCC takes that to mean the entire census block is connected to broadband. Microsoft's data shows that 162 million Americans don't technically use "broadband" (25 Mbps), often because they can't get it or it's not affordable.

That's why when the Pai FCC recently released yet another survey claiming that American broadband was wonderful (falsely claiming things like killing net neutrality was the reason why), Microsoft issued a statement attempting to correct the record:

"We share the FCC’s commitment to closing the digital divide in rural America, but we have concerns that this report continues to rely on inaccurate coverage data. There is strong evidence, including the FCC’s own subscription data and Microsoft data, that broadband is not available to millions of people in America even though the FCC’s data says it is. We hope that, moving forward, the FCC adopts appropriate solutions as we’ve previously outlined to improve the accuracy of broadband mapping so the country can more quickly close the digital divide."

With Ajit Pai's FCC widely now seen as a mindless rubber stamp for the interests of AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, there's not much chance it's going to lead the charge on better mapping. Sensing the levees of frustration about to break on this subject, the telecom lobby (US Telecom) has been pushing for its own mapping proposal experts tell me has one real function: to try and keep real, accurate data out of the hands of American consumers:

“I think we should be extremely skeptical of taking ideas from an industry that has chosen to avoid competing with cable companies as the arbiter of accurate mapping that will measure the state of competition and access,” Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Ernesto Falcon told Motherboard via email. “They have every interest in hiding the ball of how badly the United States is behind on fiber to the home deployment as they are generally seen as the companies that should be leading that effort."

"We are concerned about the true motivations of this industry-led effort, and fear that the end result will be only marginal improvements in accuracy but a major loss in transparency and public access to the underlying data,” [Free Press' Derek] Turner said.

Accurate, transparently available data would highlight how US telcos have all but refused to upgrade their aging DSL networks as they fixate on wireless video, giving cable giants like Comcast and Spectrum a growing monopoly over next generation speeds (and no, 5G isn't magically going to fix it). But if you fix the mapping data and provide America an accurate picture on how it's getting screwed (especially on price), somebody might just get the crazy idea to actually fix it -- and we sure as hell wouldn't want that.

Filed Under: accuracy, broadband, broadband maps, competition, data, fcc
Companies: microsoft


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  • icon
    Spaceboy (profile), 7 Jun 2019 @ 10:50am

    lol

    Uh oh. Microsoft's bid to ditch the disc in its XBOX and pushing Windows 10 as the last OS you will buy is starting to look shaky if large swaths of America don't have access to reliable, cheap and uncapped broadband.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2019 @ 12:10pm

      Re: lol

      Between Microsoft, Google, Akamai and other CDNs, they probably have enough data to create the definitive speed map, for both download and upload speeds, for the U.S. and most other countries. I believe they won't actually do this because they all rely on those ISPs (and backbone providers) for their continued existence.

      Can you imagine the detail, at least for wireless data speeds, if all of Google Maps' cars did the same sort of data collection as was done by that guy in Vermont https://www.npr.org/2019/02/01/690071045/one-mans-quest-to-prove-vermont-has-terrible-cell-service

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2019 @ 12:48pm

      Re: lol

      Hahaha - that is pretty funny.

      Microsoft in their eager money grab overlooked the lack of moderate speed internet to rural areas and therefore The Farmer In The Dell will not be able to use the new fangled Microsoft software as a service product.

      Let me reiterate ..... AAAHahahahahahahaha

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 10 Jun 2019 @ 8:57am

      Re: lol

      I'm sure MS's motivation here isn't altruistic, but so what? They're on the right side of this one. I'll accept their help regardless of how I feel about them otherwise.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2019 @ 12:03pm

    as bad as America is on this front, it isn't the only country that is a long way behind. the likes of S.Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are leaps and bounds in front! as long as their are politicians and organisations like the FCC that can ignore the public, allow companies to ignore their responsibilities to supply their product to the public, as they are supposed to do, and having taken subsidies, tax payers dollars, to enable them to do so, nothing will change! politicians are far more concerned in remaining in their positions and will do whatever they have to do stay there. the only way to change it is with votes. but there is, in my opinion, no excuse for government bodies that are supposed to be for the benefit of the people to do the opposite!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jun 2019 @ 12:44pm

    somebody might just get the crazy idea to actually fix it

    Google got that idea, and Google Fiber was the proposed mechanism. Look how that turned out.

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

    • identicon
      Rocky, 7 Jun 2019 @ 2:54pm

      Re:

      It's kinda enlightening that Google plowed (literally) billions of dollars into fiber and they still couldn't compete with the entrenched ISP's and their pet politicians.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 7 Jun 2019 @ 12:48pm

    fun things..

    Lets see...

    1. we need a cheap free service that is designed mostly for older people and Such that is not for games...5mbps so they can have email and cellphones.. To anyone that wants it.

    2..FCC has 1454 employees, Can anyone Find a location that tells us ALL the jobs the FCC is supposed to do... as far as I can tell thats enough personnel for janitors..
    https://www.usajobs.gov/Search?l=&l=&a=FC00&wma=15509
    WOW, all in DC..

    1. DEAR MS and other internet services..Why not send a Email to have people CLICk and tell us their locations.. Give us their address, general location, and a few facts on their service.

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

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 7 Jun 2019 @ 2:00pm

      The FCC has 1454 employees

      Microsoft's military / enforcement subdivision is considerably bigger than that.

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 8 Jun 2019 @ 3:17am

        Re: The FCC has 1454 employees

        dont think they will tech them the equipment to test all this..
        Or use the net and GPS to spot every location..Unless its a phone.
        (which would be a great trick for the ISP, use a Phone GPS to document coverage..)

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 7 Jun 2019 @ 12:53pm

    Maps are rubish

    Where I live (in a city over about 100,000), the maps say I have 12 choices... which are mostly just different services available from the same providers. There's supposedly five different providers here, but two are satellite, which is not a viable source for broadband given the horrific caps and tiny upload speeds, one doesn't actually exist, one just went bankrupt (Windstream), and the last is Spectrum. Guess which service I have? Only one guess needed.

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

  • icon
    glennfish (profile), 8 Jun 2019 @ 10:22am

    Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too difficult

    Here's a prototype we did: It's a 100 mb download map, it works in Chrome and Edge browsers, but most other browsers will choke. It takes about a minute to open, depending on your CPU speed.

    Move your mouse over your favorite cities to see what services are real.

    http://expressoptimizer.net/projects/Demos/US underserved.html

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

    • icon
      glennfish (profile), 9 Jun 2019 @ 10:38am

      Re: Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too difficult

      The link in my original post is now working. the link should be "http://expressoptimizer.net/projects/Demos/US underserved.html" but the message board software stopped at the "space" Sorry.

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

      • icon
        paul (profile), 10 Jun 2019 @ 2:32pm

        Re: Re: Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too difficult

        hi - would love to see this map - is there supposed to be a space between US and underserved.html? If so it may not work... is it an underscore?

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

        • icon
          glennfish (profile), 10 Jun 2019 @ 2:56pm

          Re: Re: Re: Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too difficul

          It's a space between US and underserved. It's a really massive file and will crash most browsers. http://expressoptimizer.net/projects/Demos/US%20underserved.html

          A more browser friendly version uglier work in progress (missing population and household data and no shapefile content) is here: http://expressoptimizer.net/projects/Demos/USMLAB.html

          The real point of this is irrespective of FCC 477 data, 41% of all speed tests done in the U.S. and Canada show download speeds less than 25 mbps and the actual service providers rarely match the FCC data.

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

          • icon
            paul (profile), 11 Jun 2019 @ 7:03am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too diff

            1 this is great work

            2 How complete is the M-Lab dataset?

            3 the USDA also is very concerned about mapping undeserved areas

            The above comment: "Between Microsoft, Google, Akamai and other CDNs, they probably have enough data to create the definitive speed map, for both download and upload speeds" makes a good deal of sense to me as well.

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

            • icon
              glennfish (profile), 11 Jun 2019 @ 8:49am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too

              re your two comments. We're already chatting with USDA. The geographic resolution isn't as good as it should be. Ultimately we need it to the block group, which means a crowdsource app has to be run in every block group. We have an app for that. :) Also, I was killing too many browsers, so I made the Select the state version and routed everything to that. It's about 350 million samples from the U.S. and Canada. I should calculate error margins for each city... maybe tomorrow.

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

          • icon
            paul (profile), 11 Jun 2019 @ 7:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Getting an accurate broadband map isn't too diff

            not sure why writing is huge - Also link #1 redirects to link #2

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


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