FCC Still Doesn't Know Where Broadband Is As It Eyes $9 Billion In New Subsidies

from the can't-fix-what-you-don't-understand dept

Despite what you might think, the U.S. government doesn't actually know where broadband is really available, which is kind of a problem when you consider the FCC doles out billions annually in subsidies to expand and improve service.

Later this month, the Pai FCC is expected to sign off on a new plan (pdf) that would dole out $9 billion in funding to help shore up fifth generation (5G) wireless coverage to rural areas. Consumer groups and academics have long argued, however, that the FCC's broadband availability maps have only a fleeting relationship to reality. That concern was mirrored by the Competitive Carriers Association, a coalition of largely small and mid-sized carriers, which issued a statement warning the FCC that it shouldn't be throwing billions in subsidies around without having an accurate understanding of the problem the agency is trying to fix:

"Unfortunately, the FCC is publishing eligibility maps that bear little relationship to where there is or is not actually coverage. The analysis itself notes that the maps released today may bear little resemblance to the areas actually available for funding in an auction, which is extremely concerning. At a time when everyone is recognizing the importance of bridging the digital divide, the FCC seems intent on moving forward with spending $9 billion without bothering to measure the scope of the problem they are purporting to solve.

This approach does nothing to help ensure that unserved and underserved areas have access to robust mobile broadband services. Instead of further analysis on what areas could be eligible, the FCC should focus on implementing the Broadband DATA Act to make data-driven decisions about what areas should receive funding for the next decade of mobile deployment."

And this is the industry saying this. Activists, consumer, groups, and other experts have been using more colorful and direct language to complain about this problem for the better part of two decades now.

Granted, terrible U.S. broadband maps are a feature, not a bug. Bigger 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. Bad maps not only help hide a lack of competition and high prices (two subjects the current FCC can't even acknowledge, much less fix), but they help obscure the billions we've thrown at carriers to build sometimes duplicative network assets that often don't fix the problems the money was assigned for.

Fortunately the recently passed Broadband Data Act should help improve mapping somewhat, requiring the FCC explore and adopt measures to shore up accuracy via crowdsourcing and other data. Carriers will now be penalized under law for falsifying data, and the use of broader data sources (rather than just taking a carrier's word for it, the norm for 20 years) should certainly help. But like many starved regulators, the FCC lacks the funding to actually implement the act at present, and even ideally it could be years before the better data is put to policy use. Bigger carriers are also trying to exclude 5G from the improvements.

In the interim, we'll continue doing what we've always done, flinging about billions in subsidies without actually fully understanding the scope of the problem we're trying to fix. That was always a problem, but it's a far more pressing one now that many folks understand the essential nature of decent, affordable broadband connectivity.

Filed Under: 5g, broadband, broadband data act, competition, coverage maps, data, fcc, rural coverage


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Apr 2020 @ 8:12am

    i wonder how much of that $9b (plus subsidies from the usual companies, will find it's way into an unnamed Swiss Bank Account, only accessible by guess who?

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

  • icon
    danderbandit (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 9:40am

    Swamp

    If only somebody could get elected who would promise to end the swampy nature of the federal government.

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

    • icon
      tz1 (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 2:52pm

      Re: Swamp

      The problem is the state and local governments that pass monopoly grants so only one company can use the existing utility infrastructure (or maybe two if the bribe is sufficient). The Federal government can't fix the economics of rural areas (I'm in Wyoming, but our city has its own fiber - which never seems slow but my town has fewer people than most city blocks in large cities). I'd love to live 50 miles away from the grid and only have to pay $25/mo for gigabit. It was hard enough to get electricity going during the Great Depression (Rural Electrification Authority?). Or non-party line phone service. There is an infrastructure bill coming. Perhaps along each road, power-line, and rail line we can insist on the latest tech fiber being installed alongside, even if temporarily dark. But I suppose they would rather tilt at Windmills and solar farms. But to return to the main topic, Enron made lots of filthy lucre by co-opting Texas and California and having the laws changed to strand the existing producers. One of the problems here is the City Greenies. They don't want even a new 4G cell tower built where there isn't existing coverage, or add lots of unrelated requirements (build a hiking trail), or just kill it with lawsuits.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 16 Apr 2020 @ 1:34pm

    I would suggest, but wont happen

    That the USA gov. take over 1-2 failing systems, and rebuild it to PAR, or better.
    It would put those Military SeeBee's to work doing something. As well as the other Construction agencies.
    IT WOULD COST LESS.
    Make the Corps Jealous. And its what the USA gov. has done before.
    Quit Giving OUR MONEY AWAY TO RICH PEOPLE..

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


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