The FCC Helped AT&T Hide Its Crappy Broadband Speeds

from the revolving-door-whiplash dept

Unless you're in fairly stark denial, it's clear the Trump Federal Communications Commision has been a rubber stamp for the every fleeting whim of the telecom sector, be it the agency's decision to effectively neuter itself at telecom lobbyist behest, or the attack on net neutrality rules with widespread bipartisan support. But such revolving door regulation has more subtle casualties, as well. The Wall Street Journal this week for example offered up an interesting deep dive into how ISPs successfully pressure the FCC to ignore slower broadband speed test data when analyzing whether ISPs are delivering the speeds they promise:

"AT&T Inc. was dismayed at its report card from a government test measuring internet speeds. So the telecom giant sought to change its grade.

The company pushed the Federal Communications Commission to omit unflattering data on its DSL internet service from the report, which assesses whether providers are delivering the speeds they advertise. AT&T also didn’t provide information the FCC needed to validate speeds on those customers, the test officials confirmed.

In the end, the DSL data was left out of the report released late last year, to the chagrin of some agency officials. AT&T’s remaining speed tiers notched high marks.

The Journal is quick to highlight how this kind of gamesmanship results in FCC studies and data that doesn't accurately reflect reality, something that obviously excites incumbent broadband executives all too eager to obscure incomplete deployments and a lack of competition in the sector:

"Companies wield tremendous influence over the study and often employ tactics to boost their scores, according to interviews with more than two dozen industry executives, engineers and government officials. As a result, the FCC’s report likely gives consumers an unreliable measure of internet providers’ performances by overstating speeds."

Hoping to use real world data to inform policy decisions (crazy, I know), just about a decade ago the previous FCC struck a deal with UK measuring firm SamKnows to measure real world broadband speeds under the creatively named Measuring Broadband America program. The firm in turn began using volunteers and custom-firmware embedded routers to obtain an objective, third party analysis of just what kind of speeds users see in the wild. Not too surprisingly the Pai FCC has been trying to discontinue the program, and AT&T says it will no longer cooperate with the FCC on the effort anyway (apparently with no penalty from the FCC).

Meanwhile, AT&T tries to claim to the Journal that the reason it wanted its slower DSL speed ratings removed from the study is because it no longer markets the service:

"AT&T said that in its case, the company asked the FCC to remove DSL data from the report because it no longer markets that older technology, which relies on copper phone lines, used by a small percentage of its customer base. The company said the commission’s own policies should have excluded the “obsolete” internet plans. AT&T also said that it did validate the DSL accounts for the FCC."

But we've noted for years that AT&T has been a cheapskate when it comes to finishing fiber deployments the company has received billions in taxpayer dollars for, leaving vast swaths of the country with the choice of either a cable monopoly or sluggish, capped DSL. AT&T would prefer it if government reports just floated the fuck over that fact, and the Pai FCC seems more than happy to oblige, with zero to no penalty for big ISPs that mislead the agency or refuse to take part in projects that give consumers an accurate view of the market.

This of course isn't the first time this problem has been brought up. FCC reports are routinely assailed as being rose-colored-glasses affairs designed not to inform, but to avoid upsetting deep pocketed telecom campaign contributors. The FCC's $350 million broadband map, which all but hallucinates competitors and speeds, and omits pricing data, is a perfect example of the end result of this dysfunction. The end goal is government reports that again hide the country's mediocre and expensive broadband shortcomings, lest somebody get the crazy idea to try and do something about it.

The Journal's report likely won't get much attention, since exclusively hating on big tech while forgetting big telecom is just as bad is all the rage right now. But uncharacteristically for a major US paper, the Journal does a nice job highlighting how a captured FCC is now a full throated apologist for the broken US broadband industry and its half-built, expensive, taxpayer-funded networks.

Filed Under: broadband, broadband speeds, competition, data, fcc, influence, lies
Companies: at&t

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2019 @ 4:07pm


    Yes, anyone who sports a MAGA hat, and is not in the top 10% of society.

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