Senators Continue To Point Out Our Broadband Maps Suck
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
For a country that likes to talk about “being number one” a lot, that’s sure not reflected in the United States’ broadband networks, or the broadband maps we use to determine which areas lack adequate broadband or commpetition (resulting in high prices and poor service). Our terrible broadband maps are of course a feature not a bug; ISPs have routinely lobbied to kill any efforts to improve data collection and analysis, lest somebody actually realize the telecom market is a broken mono/duopoly whose dysfunction reaches into every aspect of tech.
If you want to see our terrible broadband maps at work, you need only go visit the FCC’s $300+ million broadband availability map, which is based on the Form 477 data collected from ISPs. If you plug in your address, you’ll find that not only does the FCC not include prices (at industry behest), the map hallucinates speed and ISP availability at most U.S. addresses. Part of the problem is that the FCC declares an entire region “served” with broadband if just one home in a census tract has service. Again, ISPs fight efforts to reform this in a bid to protect the status quo.
Only when states are jockeying for broadband subsidies is this problem even brought up in DC, so as states vie for $4.7 million in wireless broadband subsidies via the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II, the problem has been seeing renewed attention.
Back in August, Montana Senator Jon Tester took these criticisms to a new level, bluntly insisting the FCC’s maps “stink” and that we really have “got to kick somebody’s ass” to get the problem fixed. Like Tester, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin also isn’t impressed and has been trying to challenge the FCC’s historically terrible coverage maps. This week Manchin again pointed out that our US broadband maps are terrible, while noting he was the only member of Congress to actually formally challenge them:
“Manchin argued the map does not accurately show broadband coverage in West Virginia, leaving some out of receiving reliable and affordable broadband. Rural areas were getting screwed, and all of West Virginia was getting screwed because these big-time carriers were showing, ‘Oh, this is our area. We’ve got it taken care of, don’t worry. They’re only going to go into areas where they know that they’re going to have a return on an investment. It’s no different than electricity back in the 1930s.”
Therein lies the problem. Incumbent ISPs see no reason to deploy broadband into countless areas (rural and urban) country wide because they either don’t see a good return on the investment, or the unyielding need for quarterly improvements mean they don’t see a return quickly enough for Wall Street’s liking. And while that’s certainly understandable, at the same time incumbent ISPs do everything in their power to prevent cities from wiring themselves either, most notably via the 21 protectionist laws ISPs have quite literally written and purchased that ban towns and cities from exploring more creative solutions.
That’s particularly true in Manchin’s West Virginia, which we’ve long noted is the poster child for US broadband corruption and dysfunction, thanks in large part to regional incumbent telco Frontier Communications.
Last year, the ISP fired a seven year employee because, at his part-time job as West Virginia senate leader (note how nobody in the state thought that was a conflict of interest), he voted for a new law that would actually help improve broadband penetration and competition in the state. Frontier has also been under fire for the better part of the last decade over allegations that the ISP routinely rips off taxpayers and has wasted millions in past subsidies by intentionally misrepresenting how that money was spent.
So while it’s great that Manchin is the only Senator that actually cares about the country’s broadband maps, terrible broadband maps are just a symptom of a much broader problem Manchin tap dances around: corruption and cronyism. Even the most well-intentioned US lawmakers routinely let some of the least popular, monopolistic companies in America dictate both federal and state telecom policy, then stand around with an idiotic look on their faces as they wonder what could have possibly gone wrong.