More Criticism of FCC Broadband Data
From Broadband Reports, February 7, 2007
We've long noted that the FCC's broadband penetration data isn't terribly useful. That's because they consider symmetrical 200kbps to be broadband, and they also believe that if one customer in a zip code has broadband, that zip code is "broadband wired." Critics are torn over whether this is simple incompetence or intentional manipulation to justify a hands-off deregulatory position. Either way, the GAO has faulted the data as inaccurate, consumer groups have sued to obtain real zip code data and the commissioners themselves have complained that their methodology "is not a credible way to proceed."
Still, every six months the FCC releases the data as required by the 1996 Telecom Act, which declared that if the FCC found anything wrong, they were supposed to take immediate steps to fix it. Yet, according to the FCC, nothing is ever wrong with broadband penetration in America, and nothing substantive in their data collection methodology ever changes.
Well, almost nothing. In the latest release (pdf), David Isenberg (via Techdirt) notes that the FCC is now including 11 million cellular broadband connections in order to proclaim that terrestrial broadband Internet connectivity grew by 54%. Isenberg argues it's not fair to include these capped, pricey and restrictive connections because they violate the FCC's own free-access guidelines, and without them, the U.S. broadband growth rate is only actually 27% -- which would mean it has the 26th fastest growing number of broadband Internet access lines.
This falls into the realm of more muddy criticism over FCC data, such as their declaration that a zip code that can only get satellite broadband is broadband wired (anyone who has ever been stuck on satellite would probably contest that). Whether you agree with Isenberg or not, finding additional errors with the FCC's data collection methodology at this point is kind of like lamenting the lack of clean hand towels in a burned-out crack den. "The bottom line, we need to go beyond industry-supplied, FCC-massaged data," says Isenberg.
It mirrors the statement of FCC Commissioner Copps in a recent Senate hearing: "Have us gather better statistics about our country's woeful broadband situation," he urged. "Set our agency's talented engineers and policy gurus to work writing reports and teeing up options for you to consider about how we can inject life back into our nation's stagnant broadband market."
The reality is that no matter how many people complain, this just isn't happening until there's a leadership change at the FCC (perhaps someone with a technical bent?). It should be noted that FCC chief Kevin Martin's "top priority," broadband over powerlines (BPL), still failed to make any significant inroads in this latest report -- at just over 5,000 total connections.
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