Two articles that involve the FCC recently caught my attention.
One, entitled “Actual US broadband penetration & speed falls far short of FCC claims” (https://appleinsider.com/articles/21/05/10/actual-us-broadband-penetration-speed-falls-far-short-of-fcc-claims) reveals that the FCC’s broadband maps — maps that track the speed and penetration of Internet in rural areas — are “wildly inaccurate”.
The other, published in Wired Magazine, (https://www.wired.com/story/isps-funded-85-million-fake-comments-opposing-net-neutrality/) claims that major broadband companies were behind a disinformation campaign against net neutrality rules during the previous administration.
Led by New York State’s Attorney General’s Office, the investigation alleges that 8.5 million “fake comments” were generated by a third party, using real people’s names without consent.
BROADBAND AND THE FCC
In the article regarding the FCC’s inaccurate broadband maps, the data was collected by Microsoft through its cloud services. The new data shows significantly more US counties where less than 15% of people are using the internet at a 25Mbps download speed — the FCC’s definition of high-speed internet.
How could the FCC’s own broadband maps be so flawed? It is due in great part to the source of its information. The majority of the FCC’s data was submitted by the internet service providers themselves.
BOTH SIDES PLAYING DIRTY
In the net neutrality publication, it seems as though both sides — for and against net neutrality — were flooding the FCC’s comments period with made up submissions. Out of 22 million comments made to the FCC, the investigation alleges nearly 18 million pro- and anti-net neutrality submissions were fabricated.
What’s even more significant? Broadband used fake comments, but not randomly generated names. The broadband industry used the identities of real people, without their knowledge or permission. And they compensated third-party firms to do so.
The NY Attorney General Office’s report also claims that, besides these fake comments to the FCC, the “broadband industry also sent more than half a million messages to members of Congress purportedly signed by their constituents”.
THE FCC: FRIEND OR FOE TO BROADCASTERS?
So, is the Federal Communications Commission the victims here, hoodwinked by the black suits of broadband? Does the FCC merely assume that the majority of comments they receive will be fabricated by both sides in any dispute? Maybe.
Or, perhaps it simply reiterates what most of us in broadcasting have suspected, but really don’t want to think about – the pervasive influence internet providers seem to have over the Federal Communications Commission.
Mark and I saw this ourselves in the recent C-band repack. The broadband industry has great influence amongst policy makers and lawmakers alike.
Comments made regarding the plan for 5G to co-share the C-band or Mid-band spectrum with broadcasters were overwhelmingly from broadband’s perspective. So much so that, frankly, broadcasters should consider themselves fortunate that we were able to maintain even a minor foothold in the spectrum.
BROADBAND’S INFLUENCE INSIDE THE BELTWAY
It’s not really surprising to anyone, really, that — with billions of dollars in revenue at their disposal — the major broadband companies have a strong lobbying force on Capitol Hill.
Certain members of the FCC are also quite familiar with the inner workings of the broadband industry. FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington’s career history includes a position at Brightstar Corporation, a company which provides global wireless distribution and services.
What’s more, Ajit Pai — who stepped down from his position as the FCC’s Chair in January — was himself an Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications Inc., where he reportedly handled competition matters, regulatory issues, and counseling of business units on broadband initiatives.
I think it’s worth noting that not a single member of the Commission has a background in broadcasting.