Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ISP Lobbyists Fight Plan To Improve Broadband Availability Maps -

The FCC has been considering improving its data collection to help better document where broadband is available, but lobbyists for large broadband providers like Verizon are fighting the proposal. Under the FCC's current "Form 477" data collection program, ISPs are required to identify the census blocks where they currently provide (or could relatively easily provide) residential and broadband services, as well as the speeds available in those areas. This data is then used to track overall broadband deployment, and dictate government broadband policy.

So, the previous FCC administration over the summer opened a public inquiry (pdf) into changing their data collection to focus more specifically on individual addresses instead of census block data.

"The Commission to date has not systematically examined the precise underlying methodologies that are used by service providers in generating their data nor has it investigated whether actual consumer experience has diverged substantially from the Form 477 filings," admitted the previous FCC. "Moreover, providers' minimum advertised or expected speeds have, to date, been treated as confidential, limiting the ability of policymakers and consumers to compare offerings among service providers from this data collection."

This FCC failure to ensure accurate data -- and the unreliability of the census block approach -- is a major reason why so many new homeowners are told they can get broadband at a new address, only to discover broadband isn't available. This "consumer experience," as the FCC calls it, can often be decidedly Kafka-esque.

And while more accurate data collection only makes sense, there's a major problem: ISP lobbyists are fighting the proposal, arguing that providing more accurate availability data would be too expensive and burdensome for broadband providers.

In a filing with the FCC (pdf), Verizon lawyers argued that "such proposals would impose enormous costs on fixed broadband providers without providing any real benefit to the Commission or the public." A filing by the NTCA (pdf), the cable industry's biggest lobbying group, similarly argued that "every proposal to collect more or different data imposes costs on broadband providers."

But it's not just the added cost of this change (likely to be relatively modest in context of their revenues) that bothers ISPs. ISPs like Verizon have been under fire for years for failing to uniformly upgrade their networks, or for taking billions in taxpayer subsidies to deploy fiber upgrades that were either half completed or not completed at all. The existing, more vague census-block based system makes it easier to obfuscate ISP deployment shortcomings. Improved data collection would better highlight deployment gaps, and boost public pressure on giant ISPs to do something about it.

Given that this change was proposed under the previous Tom Wheeler run FCC, and the existing FCC boss Ajit Pai appears to be little more than a rubber stamp for the industry he used to work for, it seems more than likely that ISP lobbyists are going to win this argument, and the proposal will ultimately be killed.

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