Outgoing FCC's Last Act Is A Delusional Report That Pretends US Broadband Is Wonderful

from the delusion-to-the-last 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 growing monopoly over faster broadband speeds (no, neither Elon Musk nor 5G will magically fix this problem).

As one of its last acts in power, the outgoing Trump FCC this week issued its latest annual report on the state of broadband deployment in the US. And, rather unsurprisingly for an agency that took kissing monopoly ass to an entirely new level, outgoing boss Ajit Pai used it to declare the US broadband is perfectly healthy thanks to mindless deregulation and his incredible leadership:

"From my first day as Chairman, the FCC’s top priority has been closing the digital divide. It’s heartening to see these numbers, which demonstrate that we’ve been delivering results for the American people,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

"These successes resulted from forward-thinking policies that removed barriers to infrastructure investment and promoted competition and innovation. I look forward to seeing the Commission continue its efforts to ensure that all Americans have broadband access. Especially with the success of last year’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction, I have no doubt that these figures will continue to improve as auction winners deploy networks in the areas for which they got FCC funding."

The problem: FCC broadband mapping data and methodology is hot garbage, something all FCC Commissioners (after more than a decade of complaints) only started even acknowledging in the last few years. Monopolies like Comcast and AT&T have long fought tooth and nail against more accurate mapping and data collection, knowing full well that once the public gets a better view of how spotty, expensive, and uncompetitive the US broadband market is, somebody might just get the crazy idea to do something about it. Captured regulators eagerly share this view.

While there certainly has been improvement over the last four years in terms of broadband access, the Pai FCC also has a four-year history of taking credit for improvements they had nothing to do with. One such example is the steady growth in community owned and operated broadband networks, which Pai FCC's actively opposed. Pai's FCC has even tried to take credit for AT&T fiber deployment mandated as a merger condition by the previous, Obama FCC. That's before you even get to Pai's widely disproven claim that gutting the FCC's consumer protection authority (and net neutrality rules) resulted in incredible new investment.

Pai's last FCC progress report also clings tight to the claim that our definition of broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up) is still good enough for modern policy making:

"We find that the current speed benchmark of 25/3Mbps remains an appropriate measure by which to assess whether a fixed service is providing advanced telecommunications capability. We conclude that fixed services with speeds of 25/3Mbps continue to meet the statutory definition of advanced telecommunications capability; that is, such services "enable[] users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications."

3 Mbps is pathetic. It in no way meets the urgency of a moment, and that was before entire families became stuck at home gaming, streaming 4K video, and teleconferencing due to the pandemic. And here too is yet another example where Pai's FCC went out of its way to pander to telecom monopolies. Monopolies cried like toddlers in 2010 when the previous FCC increased the definition from 200 kbps symmetrical to 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream. Giant ISPs whined again when the FCC in 2015 bumped it to 25/3. They oppose a higher standard because it would clearly illustrate monopolization and market failure. Captured regulators and lawmakers, again, eagerly share this position.

A slow consensus is emerging that 50/25 or even 100/25 should be the new normal. But Pai not only parroted industry opposition to increasing it, he actively tried to weaken the existing standard. Again, the goal here isn't to "bridge the digital divide," it's to obfuscate it on the behalf of monopolies. Monopolies that employ an army of lobbyists, consultant, academics, and think tankers whose entire function is to pretend that US broadband isn't a monopolistic mess. It's why you'll never see Pai and his ilk even mention US broadband pricing, because they know what that kind of observation leads to.

It remains unclear just what kind of FCC leadership the incoming Biden administration has in mind. But with COVID finally lighting a fire under our collective apathy on this subject, at a bare minimum you'd hope they'll have a fundamental respect for real world data. Real world data that, with any luck, results in us no longer looking at the broken US telecom sector through distorted, rose colored glasses.

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Filed Under: ajit pai, broadband, competition, fcc


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 21 Jan 2021 @ 7:15am

    So like the rest of the previous administration, claim victory in defeat, leaving behind a scorched earth.

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

  • identicon
    The Baker, 21 Jan 2021 @ 8:02am

    We thought we were getting a pie we got a Pai. We were cautious of the pie maker who gave us this Pai and it turned out that this Pai was just a big Reese’s cup full of hot crap. The pie maker is gone, the Pai is gone, hopefully the lingering smell will dissipate soon.

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

  • icon
    ilgeo (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 8:45am

    On January 19th the FCC did release the final regulations for the new broadband mapping program, which is a step in the right direction. The first round of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund broadband grant auction however was a giant cluster, which the new administration will have to clean up. Who knows what the midterm elections will bring, so it would be nice if we could get congress to pass some net neutrality legislation. I wouldn’t generally be optimistic about that, but I think if it’s gonna happen, now is the time to do it.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 12:40pm

      Re:

      A better way,
      Would be for the STATES to demand it. not the Fed.
      As they have franchise fees to PAY to most states.
      Do remember that they DIDNT install 99% of the telephone poles. They are POWER SUPPLY POLES mostly, that they are hanging on.

      The fun part is creating something repairable, replaceable, Protected, and so forth. And its going to be a hard job. Esp since the Major players have bought out the Tier 1 builders of the system.

      There used to be an idea, that IF' corps/business wasnt going to do something, you/WE had the chance to do/create something ourselves. But thats being taken away. And its not that things are complicated, or super expensive. and this is also part of the ongoing "Right to Repair" bills and Such going around our nation.

      So, the corps THINK, we are doing good, when ROMANIA, Hungary, Can beat us in Hard wire internet?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Internet_connection_speeds#Wireline

      We are 11th? at 170mbps??
      I would really like to Find the Math on this. Because what they call Outlyers can Mess up percentages and averages Very easily.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 11:04am

    And one last backhand on the way out

    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.

    I can't help but suspect that this is less about Pai kissing his own ass than him trying to delay any real action, since if the report is a yearly thing unless the new FCC is allowed to put out one based upon actual facts the 'everything is great, no need to do anything' report will stand until at least the next year, making it harder to pass any changes since any attempt to do so will have the telecom industry pointing to the lie filled report to argue that nothing needs fixing.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 12:51pm

      Re: And one last backhand on the way out

      I can understand the Problems of installing the FIBER lines all over the USA. AS the Old Tier 1 level Internet, was sold to the bill collectors, not to builders. And the Odds say that IF' they did do the work installing the Fiber, they May have forget Something about Advancement/improvement/ Over Building the System to be MORE then they need by 10? 100? times.

      But for all the profits and Shareholders payments, If they would take those and use them to Build out the Whole system from scratch, it SHOULDNT take as long as the original Phone line took to install.(over 40 years) Or the cellphone system (over 20 years).
      When 1 employee is making About $40 million per year, and there Must be a few others taking home a Good wage. Holding off abit and using it to GET everything running, would be a great thing.

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

  • icon
    K`Tetch (profile), 21 Jan 2021 @ 3:38pm

    what came next...

    The funniest thing is what came next.
    His first job out of office, was to block myself, Karl, and a few other tech journalists from his freshly de-FCC'd twitter account (he had it changed from @ajitpaiFCC to just @ajitpai)

    The petulant toddler had to bang his oversized sippy-cup one last time because he hated being told 'no'.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2021 @ 7:07pm

    So anyone else noticed that Richard Bennett hasn't been showing his Reese-flavored tongue around here to do daddy Pai's reputational damage control?

    Come to think of it, ootb hasn't been around since the election results either. You don't think they were involved in an experiment to prove that Covid can be sexually transmitted between mutual partners, do you?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2021 @ 5:11am

    unless Biden is prepared to do what definitely has to be done to improve things, ie, call out the major players, call out those in Congress who keep taking contributions from these major players in return for giving them whatever the hell they want to maintain their market shares, their almost monopolies, their piss poor service and customer service, it wont make a craps worth of difference what Rosenworcel wants or tries to do, she'll be defeated! the first test is the re-establishing of Net Neutrality, closely followed by stopping funding these same major players, out of public coffers and getting less than fuck all in return! deployment, service must be increased drastically and prices need to be dropped, just as drastically! let's face it, these companies are running the whole damn country! the law needs to be changed just as drastically too so that those places that want to can put in place their own broadband service without any type or form of intimidation or hindrance. the more places that do this, the greater the crap that has been put out as supposed services, with some of the slowest speeds on the planet will show up!

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


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