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All's well with U.S. broadband deployment (says FCC)


Report on broadband deployment aimed at misleading Congress


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 06/24/2008


Earlier this month, the FCC finally got around to releasing the U.S. broadband deployment report it approved in March. This fifth in a series "examining the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans" is just as silly as its predecessors. But the report and accompanying order (and further notice for proposed rule-making) on data collection about broadband data services may mean, assuming that the data they get is reasonably analyzed, that future reports may be a bit less silly.


Back in March I wrote about these documents (FCC: Consistent to a fault, but there is a (small) hope), but before they were released to the public. Reading the actual documents makes things clearer but not, in general, better.


First the good news: the FCC is adopting a somewhat better set of requirements that carriers will have to use in reporting about the Internet access services they offer. Instead of the totally meaningless Zip code-based granularity that the FCC has been using -- and abusing -- for years, the new requirement is that the carriers must report on the basis of census tracts.


Census tracts are "are small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a count". They usually cover between 2,500 and 8,000 people, whereas Zip codes can include over 40,000. But it will still be quite hard to determine the actual level of broadband availability and competition. For example, Shiprock, N.M. (a beautiful area) has a population of about 8,000 in its 16 square miles and the census tract seems to cover even more area than the Zip code. I doubt that there is much competition for broadband services over most of that area, but you will not be able to tell with reporting based on census tracts.


The new reporting requirements have the carriers reporting more detail about the range of uplink and downlink speeds their subscribers buy. But there is no requirement to report what speeds their customers can actually get.


Now for the bad news. The FCC still seems to be firmly lodged in some parallel universe when it comes to understanding the actual state of broadband deployment in the Unite States. The headline on Section 6 (page 31) of the report says that "Broadband Deployment is Reasonable and Timely." I suppose some carriers think that, but almost no one
else does. On the average, "broadband" in the United States is far more expensive for a far lower data rate (assuming that one actually gets the data rate). (See Broadband pricing: solutions that are orthogonal to any real problem.)


I guess the FCCs primary goal is to report that it is doing the job Congress asked it to do -- ensure availability of broadband Internet service for all Americans. I will admit that it is far easier to misuse data than it is to do real work, but it is sad when that happens to this extent.


Disclaimer: I know of no classes in misusing data in this way at Harvard or at other schools, so the FCC must be self taught. In any case, the above report on the FCC reports is mine alone - Harvard had nothing to do with it.


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