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Check Out the FCC's Useless Broadband Competition Map

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The Federal Communications Commission released data today detailing the spread of high-speed Internet connections across the nation as of the end of 2008, including this map (click on image for an expanded view). You might be thinking, “Wow, that’s awesome — so why are we spending $350 million to create such a map as part of the broadband stimulus bill?” It’s because the FCC map is worthless.

The map defines broadband as any technology (excluding mobile broadband providers) delivering speeds of 200 kbps down. I challenge folks to surf to Facebook, the new video-heavy CNN site or even get their Gmail over such a connection. It’s not a fun experience. Plus, at those speeds video streaming isn’t going to happen at all.

However, there are only a few areas of the nation that don’t have access to at least 200 kbps at the end of 2008, and according to the map many folks have a choice of between four and six providers. However, given that some of those are undoubtedly meeting the old minimum standard of 200 kbps or even the new minimum standard of 768 kbps, I can’t say this map really proves a competitive broadband market for anyone who wants to do anything more than get email.

Even if the map’s not your thing, the report does have some good data, such as the nifty chart below that shows the distribution of access technologies based on the speeds they provide. Given that we’re moving toward a video-centric web that’s going to require faster download and upload speeds, I think the title of this chart should be, “Why DSL is Doomed.”

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10 Responses to “Check Out the FCC's Useless Broadband Competition Map”

  1. Jake Jackson

    You do know why the FCC set such a low bar, don’t you? It traces back to 2002, when they were doing the final fish gut on the Telecom Act of 1996. By defining “broadband” as any connection CAPABLE of carrying 200 Kbps, they allowed the incumbent phone companies to lock up their digital loop carriers and shove the final knife in competition’s back.

    This was done with the full support of the high-tech companies, which had created the competitive local exchange industry but used it solely as a stock speculation tool. As soon as the competitors fell apart because they used the wrong gear, the high-tech merchants like Cisco fell in line on the side of the monopolies.

    People who think China is corrupt need to look closer to home. We are as bad as it gets.

  2. This report is all about what has been wrong with US broadband strategy. DSL and Cable Modems are “slowband”. What we need are reports that tell the story about penetration at much higher speeds. The FCC should make county wide (and census level) information availalbe at the local level. Why not post it on the FCC portal. We are wasting stimulus dollars paying people to develop colorful maps of broadband penetration.
    Communities already know where they have low broadband adoption rates. We don’t need to spend money putting it on maps.

    Dale Gregory

  3. Brett Glass

    Stacey, you’re spoiled — and your attitude is harmful. Remember that in many areas of the US, the wholesale cost of bandwidth to the ISP is between $100 and $400 per megabit per second per month. This means that the wholesale cost of 200 Kbps is $20 per month (not counting overhead, support, or the cost of the last mile). Most consumers want to pay no more than $30 per month for their connections. Therefore, 200 Kbps is a perfectly reasonable standard for broadband. And you can do quite a lot with a solid 200 Kbps connection. The fact that you don’t consider a connection to be adequate unless you can use huge, bandwidth-hogging applications does not mean that it is really inadequate; it means you want service below cost. Sorry, but that’s not reasonable.

  4. This map was probably the last one done under former FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who was notorious for releasing broadband maps using the old, flawed 200kbps standard and proclaiming it success. In fact, even after he got called out on it, the agency continued to do it.

    The real test will be the first map issued under Julius Genachowski. If that shows a realistic standard for actual broadband deployment, I’ll be impressed.

  5. Judit Young

    Well, it’s even worse than the speed definition you highlight (and they have the data broken down by speed tier, so they could have corrected that particular flaw).

    It is worse, because it’s not a “competition” map at all. It just lists the number of providers reporting at least one subscriber in a given Census Tract, as opposed to the market shares of the top one or two providers.

    This is bogus for many reasons, as it gives the false impression of the lack of a duopoly, when the second chart you link to begins to show that’s not the case at all.

    The thing is, the FCC has the raw data that could be used to actually measure competition. But they didn’t use it. Why? This doesn’t bode well for the national broadband plan.