The FCC Finally Starts Taking America's Shitty Broadband Maps More Seriously
from the about-time 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 competition (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.
While these shaky maps have been the norm for several decades, recent, bipartisan pressure by states (upset that they’re not getting their share of taxpayer subsidies because we don’t actually know where broadband is) has finally forced even the Ajit Pai FCC to take some modest action.
Previously, the form 477 data provided by ISPs let them declare an entire census block “served” with broadband if they provided broadband to just one home in that census block. After years of complaints, that is finally changing with a new FCC rule change that will require that ISPs provide geospatial maps of where they actually offer service for the first time in history:
“We require all fixed providers to submit broadband coverage polygons depicting the areas where they actually have broadband-capable networks and make fixed broadband service available to end-user locations. The filings must reflect the maximum download and upload speeds actually made available in each area, the technology used to provide the service, and a differentiation between residential-only, business-only, or residential-and-business broadband services. Fixed providers in the new collection must submit a broadband coverage polygon for each combination of download speed, upload speed, and technology.”
The FCC has suggested it’s also going to begin including some crowd-sourced data to confirm accuracy of the data ISPs provide, instead of just blindly trusting the industry at its word. Note that these changes only apply to fixed line broadband providers and not cellular providers, currently under investigation for also routinely lying about their wireless broadband coverage maps.
While the political pressure has finally forced industry-friendly Pai to act, there’s still plenty of issues remaining. For example the FCC still refuses to publicize the pricing data ISPs provide the FCC, because the industry claims that data will only benefit competitors. Of course the real reason they don’t want that data publicized is it would only further emphasize that Americans pay some of the highest prices for data in the developed world thanks to cable broadband monopolies across huge swaths of the US.
The other problem is one of accountability. Pai has yet to hold giant ISPs accountable on any issue of substance, so whether his FCC would actually punish ISPs that don’t comply remains an open question. The entire proposal also shovels off much of the heavy lifting to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), an agency that has never managed an effort of this scale before. So while it’s great to see the Pai FCC take steps to improve a longstanding sore spot in American broadband, it might be wise to avoid popping the bubbly until we see if the proposal is correctly applied and enforced.