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The FCC has no idea how many people don’t have broadband access (arstechnica.com)
69 points by JaimeThompson 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments



ISPs: Looks like we're not serving high speed broadband to a lot of people! We've got work to do.

FCC: Yes you do! Mr. Government, would you mind giving us 40 billion dollars to improve internet infrastructure, this is a massive undertaking and we really REALLY want to help get broadband to under-served regions.

Government: Sure, here's the money! Don't spend it all in one place!

FCC:

ISPs:

Sounds like this happened 20 years ago and now they're going to try and do it again with this as an excuse to get more money


20 Years ago?

It happened (by my count) at least twice after the Bell system breakup with Telephone companies accepting government money to bring the internet to rural areas.

After that, I think the broadband companies (many have since merged or otherwise changed) have done this at least twice.

You can ignore any arguments by broadband providers or telco companies (or wireless companies) that they should be protected from competition and given money to build out rural broadband. They're more corrupt than almost any other US companies, and they've stolen billions of USD.

The Internet (at least the backbone) needs to be a public utility, owned by everyone and neutral to everyone, period.

Unfortunately this won't happen until the corruption in the US government is rooted out.



There have been some questions raised here before as to the accuracy of that book. See:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7709556

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7864766


The book isn’t inaccurate, in the sense the data is wrong. It’s that the book draws conclusions from that data on questionable premises, and then people take the headline number and misrepresent what it means. The article linked above actually makes the theory behind the book quite clear:

> By the end of 2014, America will have been charged about $400 billion by the local phone incumbents, Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink, for a fiber optic future that never showed up.

The premise is that pre-1992 regulated rates are the proper baseline that reflect the “correct price” of service. The theory then goes that ISPs conned the government into deregulating rates by promising fiber which they never built, which allowed them to raise prices beyond what the regulated rates should have been. In other words: “an iPhone XR should only cost about $250, reflecting a 10% profit margin, so anything Apple gets beyond that is an overcharge.”

The premise is ignorant, but there is no reason to believe the underlying data is wrong. However, whether the conclusion is right or not, the underlying theory is, by its own terms, a theory of overcharge. (Prices being roughly 10% higher than they should have been over a 22 year period.) It’s not a documenting of some money transfer from government to providers.


Apple wasn't previously a government regulated monopoly and iPhones aren't a vital service in a developed country. Government regulated monopolies are different though. Regulations forcing a specific price, or even a specific "profit" margin aren't unheard of. Thus, the premise isn't entirely unreasonable!

There are details to be quibbled over, but the history of AT&T is where that premise comes from in the first place! (In particular, the 1982 DoJ mandated breakup and resulting fallout from that.)


Im in the wrong business...


If your job doesn't consist of stiffing taxpayers then what are you even doing with your life?


Maybe a good question to put on the census?


It would be much better if the ISPs in a given census block were required to list the offered packages and prices; that could then be submitted to those polled (along with some fake options to detect those who just don't know).

The citizen would be asked to fill out one column of check-boxes "from packages reportedly offered in their area" to see which they've been offered by the ISPs, and another to select the level of service they're currently getting.


Offered and available are two different things.

For instance, the COs are too far apart to drive high speed DSL to the edges of the areas they serve, so DSL 'broadband' is a dalmatian pattern even in an urban area. So you have cable, which is oversubscribed and has ulterior motives. Until your neighborhood has fiber the 'has broadband' question is pretty much on a block by block basis, and in some instances house by house.


If a company advertises (offers) a service and then backs out, is that grounds for false advertisement complaints?


No? My maid service advertises that they serve houses “throughout the MD/VA/DC area.” But they won’t clean your house unless they can find a nearby team that has space on a workable route.


If they advertise aDSL with “speeds up to” and an inherent limitation in the system (distance to CO or line quality), I suspect they’re in the clear legally (and morally IMO)


If only we had some sort of Federal Working Group - or Commission on Communication... then perhaps that group could ban the practice of advertising "speeds up to" and require that plans be reported with minimum speed guarantees (with some allowance for craziness, like an SLA - 95% of the time monthly the speed will be at least 30Mb)


Does banning the advertising of ADSL (in practice) benefit or harm consumers in total in areas where that's the fastest terrestrial option? I believe it harms them (in that advertising the cost and availability of ADSL is better than remaining silent on the service). ADSL line performance is hyper-localized to the individual service recipient.


I think the point is that measuring real, possible ADSL speeds can and should be done. There's no reason the price couldn't be prorated based on the maximum achievable speed at your household. Good luck getting that at the moment though.

The other issue is fluctuating speed at peak times. This is far, far worse IMO, because companies have oversold capacity and should be considered false advertising.


"Our service is prorated at $100/mo per 1Mbps download. For customer convenience, we also cap the monthly bill at $75/mo. You always pay the lower of the two prices." Done.


No more than the local grocery store running out of watermelon after advertising them in their weekly flyer.


I almost feel like that would be government-sponsored advertising of private companies, but if it's an awareness issue it might help. Maybe even drive some companies to expand their presence if they get help penetrating unserved markets.


When we moved to central VA a few years ago, there was a house we really, really liked but did not purchase because there was no option at all for broadband. The truly sad thing is that the house was about 1 mile from the i95 corridor, where a ton of fiber sits, going to the northern VA datacenters.

We wound up in a more established, less rural area, where we have exactly one choice in internet providers (Comcast).


> The truly sad thing is that the house was about 1 mile from the i95 corridor, where a ton of fiber sits, going to the northern VA datacenters.

No option for a wifi or optical LOS connection over that mile distance? Or was that not something you wanted to take on (understandable - can be a ton of work and difficult depending on LOS obstacles - maybe even pricey)?


The good ol' local monopoly


The First Honest Cable Company | Extremely Decent https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ilMx7k7mso (profanity)


Wouldn't it be easier to figure out how many people do have broadband and subtract from the population to get a rough guess? ISP's report subscription numbers. It won't be super accurate but maybe that is sufficient.


They are looking for the number of people/households/whatever who don't even have an option for broadband, not just the number who don't subscribe.


Would this handle multi-person households?


Incorporate avg number of people per house...?


Do we really have no record of how many houses are in the US? I hate how absolutely inefficient government is


We have excellent data on this


Then I don't see the issue of why we can't calculate like the parent said to figure out how many houses don't have service. If we know how many houses there are and the ISPs know the homes they serve, then you can figure out the difference.


Don't forget that a common argument that ISPs use to suppress muni broadband is that the muni will cover highly profitable customers while leaving the ISP needing to support only extremely rural customers... even though genuine private competition could do the same thing and the government has already footed the bill for that rural build out.


I've seen lots of apartments only offer some 3rd party cable company and 3rd party dsl, that the owners would get kick packs. (Millenium as an example). One place I was at, they only had cable and no internet. I had to use ISDN then IDSL after I moved in. About a year later enough people complained and they put in comcrap with real cable modems.

My folks live in a small town with 1 tower for the town that has verizon, thats the only internet, and its slow.

This one time work put in frame relay to employees homes, they asked for my address and didnt ask if I was a owner, I was renting the house. One day a crew showed up and ran copper to my computer room. I had instant access into the servernet for work. (it was decades ago...)

I'm really looking forward to Sat internet like spacex, so I can sit in a cabin away from everyone, and still work. Someday soon I hope.


I've always scratched my head at this. ISPs really don't have this information so beating chest about ISPs needing to supply better and better data is nonsensical. Do you know who has this information? Amazon.


> ISPs really don't have this information so beating chest about ISPs needing to supply better and better data is nonsensical.

Do you really think that ISP's marketing teams don't have this information?


Often, yes. They know where they have plant. They don’t necessarily know where they don’t have plant. If your house doesn’t already have service, it can be complicated to figure out if it can get service. Maybe you just need to extend an existing node one block over. Or maybe you need to trench half a mile. Until someone actually rings up and orders service to a previously unserved address, they don’t try to figure this all out.

I saw this in action when I ordered Comcast Gigabit Pro at my house. They looked at a map and figured there was a place close enough where they could splice fiber. Then they sent out someone to do a ground survey, put together an estimate, and then some bean counters decided whether they would eat the up front cost. The whole process took a month or so (followed by a couple of months to get permits and two full days for a four-person team to actually pull the fiber).


The FCC should visit the data at https://broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov/ ;)


What would we do with that data if we had it? Would we force the ISPs to build out unprofitable infrastructure? Would we direct some funding to the ISPs to do that? Would we incentivize rural folks to move to better served areas?

It just seems like more politics to yell at the FCC to gather this data - why do we want it?


You get that the government is controlled by politics right? The FCC Chair is quite obviously a political appointment based on politics. ISPs get to dig in the public right of way. They have access to what is a natural monopoly of plugging into peoples' homes. Unprofitable infrastructure? How about the fact that these companies take all their cap-ex and throw it into CONTENT then beg the federal government to allow them to throttle their customers so they can charge for the content. Force indeed.


The data would help get rid of the hand-waving and half-explanations of where the government money went. We would be able to point to data, and say "We gave you X million dollars, you only expanded your network by ~1%, where did the money go?". It provides a signal saying a closer look is warranted, such as an audit.


Do you think the phone company made money on that one phone line out to a farm house? Hell no. The fees and pay schedules for all subscribers included a subsidy for making sure the entire county had phone service. How different is this situation from the former? A little more hardware? I'm not even sure that's true.


"Do you think the phone company made money on that one phone line out to a farm house?"

Phone line, power line, mail service...

We used to understand there is great value in universal service. It was almost a given that having everyone in the same century was a great public good despite the loses incurred on behalf of some users.

Today that's gone. The supposed "right" are simply Senators or Congressman from Comcast et al. The "left" is indulging a growing contempt for anyone not living in a dense city. There is literally no part of the establishment with any interest solving rural broadband. So it festers endlessly; we can't even measure the problem.

I'm betting on Starlink because I don't have enough decades left for the politics of traditional broadband internet service to unfuck itself.


At one point we got a mea culpa from Al Gore from his days legislating for rural broadband.

His theory was we'd stop rural flight if people had internet access where they were. Al Gore's curse here is that Al Gore fits in with the popular kids. I don't think it occurred to him how narrow the definition of 'community' is when the population is sparse. In addition to the people who stick out like a sore thumb and simply don't belong, you have a larger silent group of people who pass for normal.

Those people see themselves as refugees, after a fashion. They're going to have some sour grapes for the place that "didn't want them", where they couldn't be themselves. Two can play that game, and cities have the strength to punch back, harder.

If the internet hadn't balkanized, I had hopes that this cycle would slow down or reverse. Exposure therapy makes people more accepting of situations that are unfamiliar. It's one of the things that happens to you in the city. Or to a lesser extent in popular media. Maybe Al was thinking the same thing, I can't say. Things are instead just getting more polarized.

Maybe it's the horse and water problem. People who don't question their assumptions aren't going to go on the internet and educate themselves out of the status quo.


Nationalize the ISPs and build out fiber to everywhere. You don't need to worry about profitability if you aren't trying to make a profit.


Not necessary. Just void all those laws that prevent competition in broadband ISPs. Strike down state laws abolishing municipality-owned ISPs. Strike down local ordinances granting telecoms local monopolies.

Eminent domain the utility poles and buried conduits to transfer them to the county/municipality, though. Too many companies squeeze out competition by saying "you can't hang your wires on our poles".

These companies have been sitting on ass, collecting rents, because they are legally protected from competition. The instant a viable competitor shows up, they scramble to clean up their acts. So strip away their protection.

Wherever they don't build out, they lose the market, because the residents might do it themselves.




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