Here’s A Map Of States That Had To Map U.S. Broadband Due To Federal Corruption And Incompetence

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Karl Bode
2022-05-12 13:47:55

from the can’t-fix-a-problem-you-can’t-measure dept

We’ve noted repeatedly that despite a steady stream of breathless rhetoric about America’s “dedication to bridging the digital divide,” U.S. government leaders still don’t actually know where broadband is or isn’t available. It only takes a few minutes perusing the FCC’s $350 million broadband map to realize government data completely hallucinates both speeds and competitors, and ignores a major metric: price.

This is all kind of a problem when the federal government just announced it would be spending $42 billion on expanding broadband access in a nation where 20-40 million Americans still lack access, and another 83 million live under a monopoly.

To counter the mapping problem, a growing roster of states have taken to mapping broadband access themselves (the ones with funding that actually care about things like monopolies and broadband access, anyway). The Institute for Local Self Reliance has crafted a map that tries to document which states are building their own broadband maps in the face of federal dysfunction.

The map showcases which states are trying to map broadband more accurately, then links you to individual state mapping efforts (here is California) for example. The group is very clear how idiotic it is that states have had to do all this heavy lifting despite millions having already been by federal policymakers:

Since the year 2000, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have supplied data (e.g., where they offer service, the technology used to offer service, and the access speeds advertised to customers) to the FCC via Form 477 and is then displayed in an interactive, nationwide map. This map has long had little correlation to the reality on the ground, and given the refusal of governments to collect pricing data, the challenges of predicting wireless propagation, and the lack of reliability data, there is little reason to believe maps will anytime soon accurately represent what service residents and local businesses have available.

The FCC only in the last year or two finally started fixing its shitty mapping after Congress demanded it as part of the Broadband DATA Act. It demands the FCC use more crowdsourced data, do a better job confirming data delivered by ISPs (which have a vested interest in downplaying the problem), and utilize better methodology (the FCC long declared an entire census block “served” with broadband if an ISP claimed it could provide broadband to just one home in that census block).

But the improvements still aren’t expected to be completed until early next year at the earliest, and the $42 billion in infrastructure broadband funds are rolling out now.

Shoddy broadband mapping has generally been a good thing for regional U.S. telecom monopolies, which not only have been allowed to obscure competition gaps (and the high prices and poor service that result), but hoover up an endless gravy train of subsidies and tax breaks for networks that…mysteriously…always wind up half deployed. It’s why they’ve spent years fighting efforts at better maps.

So while a lot of the $42 billion we’re about to spend on broadband will very much do some good, a lot of it is going to get funneled right into the back pocket of telecom monopolies. Thanks, once again, to the fact that we don’t have an accurate picture of the problem we’re trying to fix.

In short, 30 years of U.S. telecom policy has been built on a lie, and we’ve only just in the last few years decided to start actually doing something about it.

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