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The FCC's Rose-Colored Broadband Glasses
It's that time of year again....
by Karl Bode 09:56AM Thursday Nov 01 2007
It's that time of year again; time for the FCC to release U.S. broadband data that's about as reliable as a heroin addict in charge of your retirement funds. Despite years of criticism from everyone from consumer advocates to the GAO, the FCC continues to insist that if one home in a zip-code has broadband, that broadband is wired for service.

The FCC also insists that anything over 200kbps is broadband. Collectively, this methodology makes the state of the broadband union look rosy. This pleases providers, who, with the FCC's help, have done everything possible to keep more accurate penetration data private.

If the nation's broadband picture looks good, there's no reason to enact consumer-friendly, progressive policies. Such policies could improve and extend the nation's infrastructure, but they'd also harm provider bottom lines by requiring they more thoroughly serve "unprofitable" rural communities.

82.5 million people can't be wrong

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This year's data (pdf) tracks broadband up until December of last year. According to the FCC, there's now 82.5 million total broadband connections, 58.2 million of which are residential lines. Of those 82.5 million lines, 38.9% were cable modem, 30.8% were ADSL, 1.2% were symmetric DSL (SDSL) and 1.2% were fiber to the home. 27.8% used other technologies, predominately fixed wireless and satellite.

One interesting note: FCC data shows that broadband over powerline (BPL), which the agency once called the "great broadband hope," actually had fewer total subscribers at the end of December than when the year started. The FCC has consistently lauded BPL as a third competitive pipe that would bring competition to the market, and has used its "success" as justification for deregulation.

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As usual, the FCC data suggests that things are rosy when it comes to broadband penetration. The chart to the left tells us that broadband is available in more than 99% of American zip codes. It also tells us that more than 80% of U.S. zip codes have access to four or more providers.

"Our analysis indicates that more than 99% of the country’s population lives in the more than 99% of Zip Codes where a provider reports having at least one high-speed service subscriber," informs the agency.

Too little too late?

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As we mentioned yesterday, there's a few new bills moving forward that could improve the way we map broadband. This is assuming they pass, and assuming they aren't so watered down by the time of passage as to be meaningless.

Martin appears to be trying to head these bills off at the pass by making minimal changes to the way the agency collects and presents its data. Among his proposed changes are moving to nine-digit zip code analysis, as well as breaking down broadband service by speed:
Anything between 200 kilobits and 768 kilobits per second will be considered first-generation broadband.
From 768 kilobits to 1.5 megabits is to be considered basic broadband. In between 1.5 megabits and 3 megabits a second will be classified as high-speed service, between 3 megabits and 6 megabits called robust service and anything over 6 megabits a second called premium.
Given the massive and sweeping changes Martin's regime has implemented based on inaccurate data, these simple corrections are coming very late in the game. Meanwhile, the OECD should release their broadband data later today, which will indicate the United States remains in fifteenth place when it comes to broadband lines per person.

If you want to keep the rose colored glasses on, fifteenth place is actually pretty impressive for a government that has no idea how wired its populace is. It's also pretty good for a country that has absolutely no real, substantive plan to improve its broadband fortunes. If you'd like to take them off for a moment, it's pretty clear to most of us that we can do better -- and having accurate data (ableit years too late) is the starting point.

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