Is the Federal Communications Commission distorting statistics on broadband subscriber growth in the U.S.? An activist group in New York City thinks so, and has filed a complaint against the FCC, suggesting that the agency is inflating the figures for political purposes.
Last week, TeleTruth, an alliance for consumers’ telecommunications rights headed by activist Bruce Kushnick, lodged a complaint under the federal Data Quality Act, alleging that the FCC, an independent agency, is inflating statistics about broadband growth to help the White House reach its stated goal of having the most broadband connections in the world by 2007.
High Speed vs. Broadband
At issue is a news release issued by the FCC last month, which indicated that “high-speed connections to the Internet increased 34 percent during 2004 for a total of 38 million lines in service.”
But, according to TeleTruth, the connections being cited by the FCC are not true high-speed connections. Thirteen years ago, broadband was defined as 45 mps in both directions, TeleTruth says. But today, the FCC is defining broadband as 200K in one direction.
“That’s 225 times slower,” writes Kusnick in a report critical of the FCC. “By calling one-directional, 200K services broadband, the FCC has essentially inflated the number of connections, but at the detriment of the U.S. economy. We can now claim we have more connections than the rest of the world, but the truth is embarrassing. We’re technologically behind on every front that would prove to be important — speed matters.”
Some do not agree, and claim that the U.S. has indeed made advances in broadband access. Back in December of 2000, the U.S. had fewer than five million broadband subscribers, said Mark Uncapher, senior vice president and counsel of the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group in suburban Washington, D.C.
The government has had a role in this, encouraging the development of “applications that would persuade consumers to come online, like telecommuting,” said Uncapher. Other factors that have driven broadband are distance learning, electronic health records management and electronic government. The idea has been to give consumers a “compelling reason, over and above getting faster e-mail, to sign up for broadband,” said Uncapher.
Others agree that there has been a “fairly rapid increase” in broadband connections in the U.S., particularly Will Robinson, an industry solutions executive at edocs, Inc., based in Natick, Mass. This is making “customer service on the Internet better,” he added.
Last year, during the presidential election campaign, President Bush made broadband one of his issues on the stump in high-tech locales. “We rank 10th among the industrialized world in broadband technology and its availability,” said Bush in a speech during the campaign. “That’s not good enough for America.”
According to TeleTruth, the U.S. is actually 16th in the world in terms of broadband connectivity. “We’re asking the FCC to use the Telecom Act’s broadband definition — any service capable of delivering HDTV quality video services in two directions,” writes Kushnick. “‘High-speed’ and ‘advanced’ should not be included in this definition.”
The act under which TeleTruth filed its complaint requires that federal agencies report data that is “objective, reliable and accurate.”
“Unfortunately, the data presented using words like ‘high-speed’ and ‘advanced services’ do not match the Telecom Act’s definition of broadband — being able to handle high-quality video,” writes Kushnick.
“And there are no break-outs [in the FCC figures] of the data to examine small businesses and businesses as opposed to households, making the information useless, and, therefore, unreliable, in comparing to other countries’ offerings,” he concluded.