FCC Critics: Broadband Deployment is Neither Reasonable Nor Timely

Common Cause and Public Knowledge have told the FCC that its shift to a progress-based assessment of broadband deployment is wrong and needs correcting ASAP.

The degree to which the FCC concludes it is not being deployed per a congressional mandate is the degree to which it can regulate ISPs to insure that happens.

Under previous chiefly Democratic, FCC's, Congress' mandate that the FCC insure that advanced telecom be deployed to "all Americans" in a reasonable and timely fashion was found not to have been met because all Americans did not have access to it.

Under the current chair, Ajit Pai, that mandate was interpreted to be insuring that progress toward that goal was reasonable and timely, not that the goal was unmet while any American did not currently have the service.

But Common Cause and Public Knowledge in a joint filing, said the FCC had it right the first time and that the new interpretation "is incorrect and misguided, and the Commission must not continue to base broadband measurements off of it."

"The Commission’s interpretation is circular reasoning," they argue, because "it measures the adequacy of deployment based on existing uses, which are the product of existing deployment, therefore deployment is always timely, since consumers are always using it."

They also said Congress has made it clear that deployment to all Americans means just that, all Americans.

The groups also argue that the FCC overstates deployment based on incomplete and inaccurate data, and says mobile broadband and fixed satellite service should not be counted as advanced broadband deployment, and that the FCC's current 25 Mbps downstream benchmark definition for advanced telecom should be upped to 100 Mbps, which would further reduce the deployment figures.

And while some cable operators don't want disaster-affected infrastructure to count against deployment, the groups say the FCC must do so to insure that disaster areas are not "left behind."

"Rather than pat itself on the back again by using a flawed methodology to wrongly conclude broadband is being deployed timely, the FCC should conduct an open and honest assessment on who has access to broadband," said Michael Copps, special advisor to Common Cause and former FCC chairman.

Copps, while on the FCC, supported the definition of advanced telecom as not being timely deployed to "all Americans" until all Americans had it. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.