Only took the FCC a decade to stop making decisions based on bad data....
I've been complaining about the way the FCC tracks broadband penetration in this country for years
. The agency has long considered 200kbps to be a broadband connection, and believes that if one person in a zip code has broadband, that entire zip-code is wired for service. That's a fairly big deal, given they've made massive, sweeping changes to the industry over the last decade based on completely inaccurate data.
We can write reports that conclude that Americans are receiving broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion. But the facts are always there, glaring and staring us in the face, showing us where we really stand.
-FCC Commissioner Michael Copps
Given that more accurate data would highlight a lack of competition and coverage in many markets, the largest broadband providers have fought tooth and nail to prevent any change in this fairly convenient political scenario. Last March the FCC voted to finally
change the way they track broadband after a decade of criticism.
The FCC has shifted the definition of broadband from 200kbps to 768kbps
, probably not as high as it should be, but a vast improvement. The agency says they'll also start tracking both downstream and
upstream speeds and will scrap the zip code tracking methodology for more substantive census-track level reporting. Carriers still won't be required to release data on the prices they charge for different speeds.
Today that order officially went into effect. But ironically, just as when the changes were announced in March, the news was accompanied by a yet another of the agency's infamous rose colored glasses reports
(pdf) claiming all was well in the U.S. broadband market. While Commission boss Kevin Martin took time to pat himself on the back
for ideas like deregulating the increasingly irrelevant powerline broadband industry, Commissioner Michael Copps was considerably more critical
Based on a paucity of data – mostly primitive and generally-unhelpful – these reports claim progress that simply did not reflect reality. The data lacked a plausible definition of broadband, employed stunningly meaningless zip code measurements concerning its geographic distribution, ignored the prices people paid for broadband completely, and for years failed to look at what other countries were doing to get broadband deployed to their people.
And given the fact that this latest report used that same data methodology, Copps wasn't impressed:
We can write reports that conclude that Americans are receiving broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion. But the facts are always there, glaring and staring us in the face, showing us where we really stand. The fact is that your country and mine has never had any cognizable national broadband strategy to get the job done.
Actually mapping penetration is the first step. While much-needed changes finally arrived, they arrived only after a decade of in-fighting, during which industry lobbyists convinced Congress and the FCC to engage in sweeping deregulation of the industry, using flawed FCC data as a cornerstone. Perhaps the next time the FCC makes a decision that impacts the broadband market, they might actually know something about it.