Continuing deceptions

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The FCC just released the fifth annual report on the status of "High-Speed Services for Internet Access" in the U.S. and its possessions. Like its predecessors, this report is fundamentally misleading on a number of fronts.

The FCC produced this report and its predecessors because Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996  directed the FCC to regularly "initiate a notice of inquiry concerning the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans" and from the results of the inquiry determine "whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion." If the answer is ever no, the FCC is required to "take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability." The Act defined "advanced telecommunications capability" as "high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology."

I have no idea what Congress in all of its technical prowess thought it was talking about when it mentioned high-speed broadband in the Telecom Act but all the network people that I know would not consider any service of less than 1M bit/sec as a "high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability." In the first of its reports  the FCC used the term "broadband," but it arbitrarily defined this as a service supporting at least 200K bit/sec in both directions.

Maybe because it became clear that few observers agreed with its use of the term broadband to mean such a slow service, and maybe because the numbers were not going to be all that impressive, the FCC has now dropped the term and substituted "high-speed," which it defines as at least 200K bit/sec, but it only has to be in one direction -thereby halving its already low requirement. This is misleading at best.

It seems like the FCC has been able to confuse (deceive?) some in the press who touted the growth in broadband usage based on the FCC report. It also seems to have confused the FCC chairman, who published an editorial in the July 7 Wall Street Journal touting the growth of broadband deployment in the U.S. Maybe no one told him that the FCC's own survey just reported on high-speed, not broadband, access.

As I mentioned two years ago, which was the last time I looked at one of these reports, ("Reading into the FCC's 'Net access stats, ", there are a lot of other problems with the FCC's approach.

For example, its very misleading assumption that a single subscriber to high-speed services in a ZIP code can tell you anything about the actual availability of high-speed (never mind actual broadband) service to people living in that ZIP code.

All of the statistics in the FCC report are "up and to the right" and thus look good. It's too bad that it actually does not tell us all that much about Internet service that can actually be used for "high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications." Maybe someday we will find out but maybe not from the FCC.

Disclaimer: Most of Harvard's stats are also up and to the right, but I've seen no university opinion on the FCC's use of such stats so the above is my own rant.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at sob@sobco.com.

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