New York State Leaders Finally Realize U.S. Broadband Availability Data Is Hot Garbage

from the can't-fix-what-you-don't-understand dept

We've noted for years how, despite a lot of pretense to the contrary, the federal government doesn't actually know where broadband is or isn't available. The FCC usually doesn't independently confirm that ISP-provided data is accurate, and the agency declares an entire area "served" with broadband if just one home in a zip code has service. Efforts to fix this problem have historically been undermined by telecom lobbying, since incumbent ISPs aren't keen on further highlighting the profound lack of competition (and high prices) that plague the sector.

In just the latest in a long line of discordant efforts to fix the problem, New York state has announced it will be conducting a new study to determine broadband availability, after a survey found that the federal and state government's existing broadband availability data was largely nonsense. It's a problem that has plagued the U.S. for roughly twenty years, but it is seeing renewed attention given that studies have shown that 42 million Americans lack access (double official FCC estimates) to any broadband whatsoever during a pandemic:

"This crisis is hurting our economy, our small businesses, our families, and our children," Rep. Brindisi said. "Shockingly, the Federal Communications Commission doesn't even know what areas have access to broadband and what areas don't."

It's not actually shocking. For twenty years the FCC has turned a blind eye toward our total failure to collect accurate broadband availability and pricing data, all while making major sweeping policy decisions (usually in favor of entrenched monopolies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon) based on that data anyway. The agency's $350 million broadband availability map all but hallucinates speeds and coverage, and fails to even catalog prices. In part because clearly showing Americans that they're paying more money for slower, patchier broadband than a long list of developed countries might just drive somebody to actually do something about it.

And it's not just FCC data, or one party that's the problem. State leaders like Andrew Cuomo have also parroted false claims that "98%" of New York state has access to broadband. When you bother to actually look, you'll find that most of those connections aren't broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up as defined by the FCC at all), they're usually dial up, heavily capped, slow and expensive satellite, or aging DSL lines that haven't been meaningfully upgraded since the early aughts:

"You know there are percentages that you’ll hear that 98% or 99% of the state is covered, well it’s not really,” said Assembly Al Stirpe (D), “a lot of it is satellite coverage and some dial-up.”

The Governor’s Office has claimed that under the “New NY Broadband Program” which has invested $500 million dollars since 2015, New York’s broadband access is at 98%, a number both Stirpe and Crouch think is a stretch.

While the federal government finally mandated at least some broadband mapping improvements via the Broadband Data Act, the FCC currently lacks the funding to follow through (because we keep kneecapping our regulators), it will likely take years to implement, and the wireless industry is already lobbying to have 5G excluded from the improvements (they don't want the public to understand 5G availability will be patchy as well). And with regulatory capture being just so hot right now, there's not much incentive toward genuine accountability and reform without a dramatic Congressional shake up.

It's all part of this ingenious cycle of intentional American dysfunction that involves making bad decisions based on bad data, then throwing billions in unaccountable subsidies at entrenched monopolies that easily should have delivered a fiber connection to every home in America by now. But because AT&T, Verizon, Charter, CenturyLink, and Comcast very much like things this way for what should be obvious reasons, we don't implement genuine federal or state reform the vast majority of the time. Policy "experts" then ignore or pretend corruption isn't at the root of the problem.

Rinse, wash, and repeat.

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Filed Under: broadband, broadband data, competition, fcc, new york


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  1. icon
    DB (profile), 10 Aug 2020 @ 9:37am

    There could easily have been a census question...


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