FCC 706 Report – Everything’s Amazing, but Nobody’s Happy

by Mike Wendy on May 23, 2011

Last Friday, the FCC released its annual 706 Report – a report that details whether broadband is making it out to all Americans on a reasonable and timely basis.  As it did last year after essentially raising the bar for what’s “acceptable” broadband, the FCC once again determined that all American’s aren’t getting it as fast as the FCC wishes.

From the 706 Report:

Our analysis of the best data available—the data collected by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for the National Broadband Map—shows that as many as 26 million Americans live in areas unserved by broadband capable of “originat[ing] and receiv[ing] high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications.” Many of these Americans live in areas where there is no business case to offer broadband, and where existing public efforts to extend broadband are unlikely to reach; they have no immediate prospect of being served, despite the growing costs of digital exclusion. For these and other reasons, we must conclude that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion to all Americans.

Unfortunately, the press release accompanying the 706 Report goes in a different direction, strongly implying that private companies who wire America have failed it:

[A]pproximately 26 million Americans, mostly in rural communities located in every region of the country, are denied access to the jobs and economic opportunity made possible by broadband.

The press release then emphasizes the FCC’s “white knight” role in changing this:

Without action by the FCC in partnership with the states and the private sector, prospects for broadband service in many of the areas cited in the Report will remain unacceptably low. (emphasis added)

Of course, the United States Telecom Association (which represents America’s telecom industry in Washington) had a more positive take on the new data, stating:

The FCC’s own data show that 95 percent of Americans have access to wired broadband, and 93 percent are happy with their service. Moreover, private sector investment in broadband grew from $63 billion to $66 billion from 2009-10, according to USTelecom and Yankee Group data. Clearly the private sector is doing its part – broadband has been deployed to virtually every corner of America where a business case can be made for investment.

Reports, like statistics, can be framed in any way an author so chooses.   The Author – the FCC – has a stake in this game, seeking to regulate the Internet where it hasn’t before.  To get there, the agency has to paint, or imply, a crummy picture – that private companies have botched wiring America with broadband.  The 706 Report and its hyperbolic press release “prove” the need for the FCC to correct that deficit.

I believe the opposite sits closer to the facts than the FCC’s sad, agenda-driven surmise.

As industry analyst, Scott Celand, alludes to, the FCC (and its pro-regulatory cheerleaders /pessimists) suffers from the psychological phenomena called “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” syndrome, noting in his blog today:

Point to a broadband deployment “glass” that has been filled super-fast by competitive forces to be 95% full, and then exclaim horrors the broadband deployment glass is still 5% empty and its all the fault of the fast-filling market competition…

The FCC could use some Freudian counseling.  The 5% of Americans who lack broadband would get it faster if the FCC healed itself of its Münchausen syndrome, taking the advice USTelecom gives:

It is now important for government to do its part as well – by taking action to remove barriers to investment, eliminate uneconomic regulation, make additional spectrum available, and provide financial assistance to areas where it is economically unfeasible to provide broadband on an unsupported basis.

This prescription, and avoiding too much navel gazing, will help the ornery agency see that the broadband we have is pretty amazing.  And that should make them happy.

Americans, too – for it would foreclose agency actions that, though “well-meaning,” would actually hurt the rollout of new broadband infrastructure to all on a reasonable and timely basis.




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