from the reality-based dept
One consistent point of pride for the Trump FCC, like many Trump agencies, was its active disdain for real world data. It didn’t matter how much data showed that US broadband was expensive and spotty due to monopolization (and there’s a lot of data clearly proving that point), the Trump FCC didn’t care. It didn’t matter that surveys showed that net neutrality was popular among consumers. Guys like Ajit Pai believed that the US broadband sector was perfectly healthy and competitive and you make things even more wonderful by gutting already fairly feckless regulatory oversight even further.
In short, some people have an ideology and refuse to accept any data that challenges it, no matter how clear it is. The Ajit Pai Donald Trump FCC was the poster child for this mindset. Yeah, it can be hard for anybody to be open to changing your opinions in the face of new or shifting data, but the Trump FCC didn’t try. Like, ever. It blacklisted all reporters that even remotely criticized policy. It actively embraced bogus data from lobbyists. It routinely and knowingly spread absolute, disproven falsehoods. It wasn’t interested in real world data. It simply wasn’t.
It’s not entirely clear yet what the Biden FCC is going to look and behave like, as the Biden camp still hasn’t yet fully staffed the agency with a third Commissioner and possible permanent boss (kind of a problem during a pandemic busy highlighting how essential broadband is to… everything). But there are indications it’s going to at least listen to the data and objective experts instead of just, you know, making shit up completely.
Whereas the Pai FCC basically killed a program that used real world data collected from real consumer routers to measure consumer broadband experience (again, because it revealed truths that clashed with Pai’s ideology), the new FCC says it’s making real world consumer experiences a priority again. That includes a new portal and a new form US broadband users can use to explain their experiences with customer service, prices, speeds, availability, and other sticking points in a highly monopolized business sector.
That data will then, purportedly, be used to actively inform policymaking (crazy!):
“As the Commission develops the tools needed to enhance the accuracy of its existing broadband maps, this new form provides a way for consumers to share their broadband experiences. Stories shared by consumers will help to inform the work of the FCC?s crossagency Broadband Data Task Force.
Take note. We're going straight to consumers. https://t.co/bZzsFo46ap
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) March 22, 2021
Of course having access to real world data doesn’t mean that data will be used to seriously fix the problems in telecom, most of which orbit around two main problems: monopolization and state and federal corruption. Most of the Biden FCC’s decisions so far have been relatively basic and unsurprising, and until the Biden administration gets around to appointing a permanent boss it remains stuck in partisan gridlock (thanks to that last minute appointment of Trump BFF Nathan Simington to the Commission). Until that’s remedied, it’s hard to determine just how tough this new FCC will actually be.
Either way, it’s still essential to have real world data and accurate broadband maps to inform your policy decisions. US broadband for a good 30 years now has relied on an intentionally distorted view of the industry; one enabled by an industry that doesn’t want obvious market failure highlighted… or fixed.