Technology

FCC Fixes Giant Error Over-Stating Broadband Availability… Then Doubles Down On Bogus Claims

Back in March, the Pai FCC proclaimed that new FCC data indicated that the agency’s decision to effectively neuter itself at telecom lobbyist behest was resulting in vast, wonderful benefits for American consumers. According to the FCC, its blind fealty to AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast quickly resulted in massive steps toward “closing the digital divide,” something Pai has repeatedly claimed is the top priority of his tenure:

“For the past two years, closing the digital divide has been the FCC’s top priority,” Chairman Pai said. “We’ve been tackling this problem by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Connect America Fund. This report shows that our approach is working. But we won’t rest until all Americans can have access to broadband and the 21st century opportunities it provides to communities everywhere.”

While the FCC didn’t release any hard data to support the claim its policies are creating telecom Utopia, it did bandy about some cherry-picked stats that in no way showed what the FCC claimed. For example, while the FCC tried to claim that 2018 was a “record year” in fiber deployment thanks to its “deregulatory” policies (like killing net neutrality), it failed to note that about half of the 6 million fiber lines deployed last year were thanks to conditions affixed to the AT&T DirecTV merger by the previous FCC (kinda the opposite of deregulation).

The Pai FCC’s claims had other holes. For example much of the data it used to suggest broadband growth was exploding thanks to killing net neutrality was collected — before net neutrality was actually formally repealed (June 2018). And about 1.9 million new subscriber growth was subsequently discovered to be thanks to a clerical error. I’d been wondering if this FCC would actually fix that error before it released a broader report, and to its credit, the agency did. But when the agency issued a press release saying it had fixed the problem, it failed to address the countless other flaws in its claims.

And while the FCC still hasn’t released the underlying full report, the agency continues to double down on its underlying claim that regulatory capture is some kind of modern miracle for those without broadband:

“We’re pleased that the FCC’s policy of making deployment data open and transparent to the public resulted in this error being discovered. Fortunately, the new data doesn’t change the report’s fundamental conclusion: we are closing the digital divide, which means we’re delivering on the FCC’s top priority. We’re achieving this result by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, promoting competition, and providing efficient, effective support for rural broadband expansion through our Universal Service Fund programs”

But again, that’s not at all what’s been happening. The “support” Pai has provided for programs like the USF has been to slowly but surely kneecap them, including efforts to ban tribal areas from getting broadband subsidies, a move the courts slapped down for not being supported by factual data and evidence (maybe you’ll notice a trend). And by targeting consumer protections like net neutrality (a move that also stripped away much of the FCC’s authority over ISPs), Pai’s FCC made it easier than ever for ISPs to nickel-and-dime captive customers in barely competitive markets without repercussion.

The way to fix American broadband is to embrace policies that fix the sector’s biggest problem: a lack of competition. You’ll notice however that Pai routinely just plain old never mentions this problem or the sky-high prices and terrible customer service that results. Instead, this FCC insists it can miraculously fix the sector’s problems via industry cronyism, the exact policy approach that gave America Comcast customer support. And when the agency attempts to prove this claim, it leans heavily on data that proves nothing of the sort.

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