Study Finds US Broadband Gaps Three Times Worse Than The FCC Claims

from the can't-fix-a-problem-you-can't-acknowledge dept

As one of his last acts as Trump's FCC boss, former agency Chairman Ajit Pai released a rosy report claiming that America was making great strides in bridging the "digital divide." According to the report (pdf), 14.5 million Americans now lack access to broadband, down from 21.3 million one year earlier. This progress, Pai proclaimed, was directly thanks to his decision to effectively lobotomize the FCC's consumer protection authority at telecom lobbyist behest:

"From my first day as Chairman, the FCC’s top priority has been closing the digital divide. It’s heartening to see these numbers, which demonstrate that we’ve been delivering results for the American people,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

"These successes resulted from forward-thinking policies that removed barriers to infrastructure investment and promoted competition and innovation. I look forward to seeing the Commission continue its efforts to ensure that all Americans have broadband access."

But the numbers, and the claims, were based on little more than fantasy. A new study released this week manually inspected actual broadband availability at 58,883 different addresses across 11 ISPs in 48 states. They found that the real number of Americans without broadband access is likely somewhere closer to 42 million, or roughly three times higher than official government estimates:

"The firm manually checked broadband availability for 58,883 U.S. addresses at 11 different internet service providers (ISPs) across 48 states. They then compared this data with the Form 477 data ISPs provide the FCC, and found industry and the FCC routinely over reported broadband availability all across the country."

There's ample debate among telecom data nerds about the degree of the problem, but there's a fairly widespread consensus on the fact there really is a problem. There's several reasons it persists. One, ISPs have historically provided overly rosy data to the FCC, which the FCC lacks the staff, resources, or sometimes willpower (if AT&T and Comcast lobbyists get their way) to accurately and consistently verify. Another reason is the FCC continues to use a bizarre methodology that declares an entire census block "served" by broadband if just one home in that block can theoretically get service:

"There is a widely acknowledged flaw with Form 477 reporting,” the study noted. “If an ISP offers service to at least one household in a census block, then the FCC counts the entire census block as covered by that provider.” In many rural areas, a census block can encompass hundreds of square miles."

Keep in mind that independent broadband experts say the FCC also dramatically underestimates the number of Americans living under a monopoly (83 million according to some estimates). The FCC historically also doesn't do a good job collecting or sharing data on broadband prices, which helps the telecom industry downplay the obvious impact regional monopolization and corruption has on real-world consumer costs.

This has been a problem for the better part of the last few decades, meaning the lion's share of government policy decisions are being based on a distorted and unnecessarily optimistic view of the problem. This also opens the door to folks like Ajit Pai using overly inflated progress to justify policies that often harm the market and consumers (like the mindless rubber stamping of megamergers, or the elimination of FCC consumer protections on net neutrality and privacy). "We don't need competent and consistent oversight of telecom monopolies, because things are already going so well!"

And while the government last year passed a new law (the DATA Act) that demands the FCC fix these problems, actual fixes (assuming they're even implemented correctly) will be years away. In the interim we're doling out billions in additional subsidies to fix a problem we're still incapable of actually measuring.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: ajit pai, broadband, broadband coverage, competition, fcc


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 May 2021 @ 6:09am

    FCC's job is oversight. What they will say..."Looks like this was an oversight, that's what we get paid for!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 6:22am

    Richard Bennett's going to have to work overtime, it seems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 7:10am

    My prediction.

    The FCC will continue to report marvelous progress in reducing the digital divide, at least until there is a move to reduce or remove the subsidies for a "solved" problem, at which point the problem will miraculously become much more serious, overnight.

    Not that I am cynical or anything...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 7:25am

    Maths

    They found that the real number of Americans without broadband access is likely somewhere closer to 42 million, or roughly three times higher than official government estimates [of 14.5 million]

    42 million is about 1.9 times higher than 14.5 million. (I.e., 27.5 million higher.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 6:01am

      Re: Maths

      42 million is about 1.9 times higher than 14.5 million.

      42 divided by 14.5 is 2.9. Which is "roughly three".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2021 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re: Maths

        42 divided by 14.5 is

        ...the wrong calculation. That tells us 42 is roughly 3 times as much as 14.5. That's only 2 times more than 14.5.

        It's like when a stock shows a 200% gain. That's a tripling, not a doubling, and one's calculations will be way off if one does not understand simple English terms such as "more than" and "gain".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2021 @ 9:00am

    i bet everyone is absolutely gobsmacked at this information, everyone, that is, except the ISP execs and the paid for politicians who keep letting these ISPs not only get away with supplying one of the worst services on the Planet but also get laws brought in preventing anyone else from installing what would be very hard NOT to be a better service! those bought and paid for politicians need exposing and dismissing from office at the earliest opportunity!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 May 2021 @ 10:59am

    Lies in an offical government document...
    It would be nice if we could get a refund of his salary.

    I mean I fudge $20 on a tax form and I get an IRS anal inspection, this goofy motherfucker blatantly lied repeatedly and not a damn thing will happen.

    The regulatory capture by the industry they are supposed to oversee is 1 thing, but to accept boldfaced lies, Congress should get angry.
    I mean now all citizens can see they were lied to & they responded with tell us more lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 May 2021 @ 12:15pm

    how many of us?

    have been raised to look at the gov. and think 'WTF' is going on?
    We notice them changing a few things and its not working, but they dont see anything. We seem to see the Corps as Cheap as they are. Selling to us products, made 1/2 as good as the old things that lasted forever, and these New things dont last more then 12 months and 1 day. We used to have cars we could fix in the driveway with a few tools and Gum. Now you open the hood and 'where's the engine'. They use LESS materials(go look under the wheel wells on pickup trucks, they didnt even close them off, no support if they get hit) Thinner then a watered down pancake(crepes), Use Less employees, most parts are builts over seas and Put together IN the USA. Then charged as if they were MADE in the USA by the BEST people possible, insted of machine automation in Mexico.
    Break that plastic headlight frame(all plastic) and its going to be $200+, made in Mexico.
    Then we have so much Plastic in the engine compartment, that after 10 years of Heat and cold, the whole thing starts leaking Air compression for the switches needed to keep up the Fuel economy, 40mpg to 25mpg over night. and to fix it will cost you another Arm and leg, for a FEW plastic/rubber hoses that you cant easily buy.(or reach)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    holliweb12 (profile), 13 May 2021 @ 12:59am

    survey information

    If you are a customer of Publix then you must take part in the Publix survey cause Publix organized. https://surveysguide.onl/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.