Last year, consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge penned a piece that was by and large ignored by the Steve Jobs-obsessed technology media. In it, Public Knowledge's Art Brodksy lambasted a broadband mapping group called Connected Nation
, alleging that the group was little more than a policy front for incumbent carriers. According to Brodsky, the group takes state taxpayer funds under the pretense of effectively mapping state broadband services, but then acts by and large as an extension of the incumbents -- obscuring data they don't want public, while lobbying state lawmakers on carriers' behalf.
PK suggests a core function of Connected Nation is to pre-empt more serious efforts to increase competition and coverage. The group paints over broadband shortcomings, insisting that thanks to them, States like Kentucky have nearly 100% broadband coverage
(people in Kentucky claim otherwise). With a board of directors
stocked with executives and lobbyists from the largest operators, the organization never demands particularly comprehensive data from the carriers themselves.
According to the Connected Nation non-disclosure agreement, the broadband maps used by the organization don't even differentiate between broadband service types (DSL, FTTH, cable). As per the industry's wishes, Connected Nation's maps also don't pinpoint the specifically available providers at each address. Interestingly, the NDA also notes that any data collected by Connected Nation remains the property of AT&T, and can be pulled or deleted at any time.
Of course, as Connected Nation grows in influence, Public Knowledge has argued
that they're derailing more serious broadband mapping efforts already underway in a number of States. That's a big deal, since included in the $7 billion dollar broadband stimulus plan is $350 million to be spent on mapping. Public Knowledge and other consumer advocates are now arguing
that if the lion's share of that money winds up going to Connected Nation, as the industry hopes, consumers are going to wind up very disappointed with the results. From a new report
Connected Nation is not a neutral broker in broadband information. It is run by, and boasts of its connections to, telephone and cable companies. Yet, it accepts public funds in the millions of dollars to conduct a public function—mapping of broadband. The end result is a project from Connected Nation which, instead of reflecting neutral information on which good public policy can be based, instead represents only the information that the most interested of parties wants reported.
We've spent the better decade studying phone and cable lobbying and PR efforts, which go so far as to create completely artificial consumer advocacy groups
to argue against your best interest as a consumer. Even if Connected Nation is only half the sham Public Knowledge seems to think it is, it's probably the largest, most ingenious and well funded lobbying operation launched by carriers in the last decade. The question now is: will the Obama administration and the media get wise to the long con at play here before it's too late?
Even if you completely disagree with Public Knowledge about the depth of the Connected Nation skulduggery, there's a larger point to consider here. If we're going to use taxpayer dollars for broadband mapping, we should be able to independently access and verify the data. Connected Nation's model has the taxpayers paying for data that can't be independently verified, and if the carriers have their way, won't be particularly useful or accurate. It won't specify carrier, speed or price, so in turn won't be useful in making policy that increases broadband competition.
But then again, it sounds like that's the industry's goal, since increased competition would mean reduced revenues.