FCC Data Ignores Reality of Broadband Coverage Gaps, Report Says

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In a report published by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, researchers use the city of Rochester, MN, to illustrate that the FCC’s methods of collecting and publishing data on broadband availability are not accurate, especially in rural areas.

“The main takeaway is that some elected leaders have been fooled by aggregate statistics in broadband deployment,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the group’s broadband initiative and co-author of the report. “We did the paper to demonstrate how statistics can be abused.”

One major issue centers on broadband monopolies and duopolies, reported State Scoop. Federal statistics cited in the report indicate that there are 19 broadband providers in Rochester, a number that would indicate a high level of market competition. However, in a majority of the city, there’s no competition at all. According to the map, everyone in Rochester has broadband access; the report begs to differ, showing about 19,000 Rochester residents only have access to broadband services through Charter Communications, and another 42,000 don’t have access to a wireline broadband provider at all.  

Due to this misinformation, the local government basically gets a “convenient excuse” not to act, Mitchell said.  

Part of the issue, is the FCC’s broadband availability collection process, according to the researchers. Every six months, internet service providers are required to submit a document called Form 477 to the agency, showing where they provide service, census block by census block. But census blocks can be big, particularly in rural areas, and the FCC defines access in a way that does not reflect reality for most consumers, the researchers said. The result, Mitchell notes, is a map produced by the federal government showing artificially high availability and subsequent policies that do not address gaps in the nation’s coverage.

Because of this, “large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities,” according to the report.

To address the issue, the FCC is collecting public comments to reform how it collects broadband data, reported Inside Towers. The agency also extended the time to challenge the maps. Comments? Email us.

November 30, 2018

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