By Chip Pickering
It is abundantly clear that there are serious and significant flaws with the current state of the FCC’s broadband mapping for our nation. Tens of millions of Americans, many living in small towns and rural communities, are being falsely counted as served by high-speed broadband when in fact they are being denied critical internet services and competition that are promised by law.
The FCC’s broadband maps are critical for making policy determinations related to the Universal Service Fund, deployment measures and competition policy. However, the current reliance on the Form 477 processes for Internet Service Providers has created an inaccurate fairy tale of broadband availability.
Specifically, the form’s focus on “census block” data and not physical home and building location data is wholly inadequate. In addition, the form’s instructions ask an internet service provider where it “could” provide service, versus where it “does” provide service, creating a false view of broadband availability and competition across America.
Bipartisan frustration with the FCC maps was evident during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing last week. Members of Congress from both parties criticized the maps, calling them “bogus” and “inadequate.” The Secretary of Agriculture even called the broadband maps “fake news.”
However, during the hearing we were extremely encouraged to hear Chairman Ajit Pai’s admission of the problem and his commitment to identifying more granular data to help address the issue, and make it right. This was a courageous and bold step by Chairman Pai. It is important to note the current broken broadband maps were an inherited problem. Previous Chairs failed to address this challenge. But with a formal admission of the problem, now is the time to change the system and work towards a solution.
To begin, the FCC must immediately reject any proposals based on the current broadband maps’ flawed data — starting with the misguided effort by AT&T and Verizon’s trade group, USTelecom, to eliminate bipartisan competition laws. The notion that we would forebear from competition laws that encourage fiber deployment in underserved urban, suburban and rural areas and provide the only internet access for many customers in some communities is unfounded. Competition laws enable a bridge to broadband that fosters innovation, faster speeds and lower prices. Competitive services benefit residential customers, small businesses, schools, hospitals and government agencies including the U.S. military. The idea that we would cut off competition to these customers and raise prices on the basis of false data from broken broadband maps is absurd.
INCOMPAS and our member companies stand ready and willing to help the FCC fix the broadband mapping problem plaguing our nation. INCOMPAS represents local broadband builders who can, on a confidential basis, provide detailed granular data right down to the home and building address. We also represent leading internet edge and streaming providers, including those who have offered to help provide usage data to show where Americans are using high-speed broadband to download online information and software.
Working together with other industry wired and wireless providers, and the FCC’s team of experts, we believe the broken broadband maps can be mended. Consumers deserve transparency and the right to know the truth about broadband speeds, prices and the number of competitors running to their front door. As the United States embarks on the race to 5G, having real and accurate data is the only way to ensure millions of Americans are not forgotten and left behind by the next digital revolution.
Over 9,000 customers took the time to write detailed letters to the FCC asking them to save competition.
The US Small Business Administration warned AT&T’s “Competition Cut Off” would be “Devastating.