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If hype were broadband, the U.S. would be No. 1

ASK THIS | March 27, 2011

A new FCC report and database describe broadband availability and speeds by Zip Code. Bruce Kushnick put in his Zip, and found that just about all the important information in it was incorrect.

By Bruce Kushnick
Q. Just how bad is the FCC’s report on the broadband available in your Zip Code?
I’m excited as I sit here going through the new FCC Internet Access report, released this past week, as well as the new FCC broadband database search engine to tell me all of the competitive very fast broadband services available to me. The database reportedly cost $300 million to build, a little less than $3 a household. So I thought I’d check it out to see how it compares to reality when I look for residential broadband services in my neighborhood, Zip Code 11209, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York.
As I go through the process words like “deceit” and “flim-flam” come to mind. The database for my Zip Code is incorrect, way off. What the FCC’s Internet Acccess report really shows is that the U.S. has plenty of hype but not much to back it up. If hype were broadband, America would be No. 1.

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s go through a few steps:
Step 1: I go to www.broadband map.gov and type in my Zip Code, 11209. It tells me that: “Most Common Speed: 10 Mbps” (and this is as of June 2010).
It also lists these providers and speeds:
CSC holdings                                      100mbps-1 gbps
Verizon Communications                      50mbps-100 mbps
Time Warner                                       50mbps-100mbps
Covad Communications.                       10mbps-25mbps.
Step 2: I go on the web to look over this list of very fast services. I can’t believe my eyes. I’m so excited, my heart is racing. But I’m also a little skeptical.
The facts?

  • CSC Holdings? I never heard of them but when I search for them on the web, they might be “Cablevision” – a cable company that is not available in Zip Code 11209. Oh, well, there goes my 1 gigabit speeds. (Note 1 gigabit equals 1000mbps.)
  • Covad?  I’ve never been solicited by them but I know they were shut out of using the fiber optic networks in 2005 by the FCC, so  they are still using the copper wiring. When I go to their site, they don’t offer residential services – only business services, which are not competitively priced, even if I wanted them.
  • Time Warner, my cable provider, doesn’t offer 100 mbps speeds; the FCC data are incorrect. It does offer 50mbps residential services, but with caveats such as, “actual speeds may vary,”  and “up to 50 Mbps.”
  • This leaves Verizon. FiOS is the only product that can do at least 50mbps. In fact on its website Verizon claims it can do 150mbps. But FiOS was not offered in June 2010 in my Zip Code, so the FCC report is incorrect there, too. (FiOS is being installed in my building this month.)

So much for the $300 million national broadband database. None of the information was accurate for the time cited.
Step 3: What the FCC Internet Report shows about broadband in America.
I go to the FCC’s “Internet Access Services: Status as of June 30, 2010.” The picture gets clearer but the scene worse.  If you really want to wonder why we’re a third-world broadband nation, just check out the stats from the report.  

  • There were only 4.4 million fiber optic-based customers in 2010.
  • There are 133.7 million broadband connections but only 749,000 lines in service that can do over 25mbps, just over one-half of 1 percent.

Step 4: So, what did we learn today?
In Zip Code 11209, information about all the broadband providers was incorrect. The high speeds advertised are either not offered there or elsewhere in the U.S. or, where they are offered, the rates are generally prohibitive – incredibly expensive as compared to say, Hong Kong or France or most developed countries.
Hong Kong today offers 1 gigabit speed for $27 a month. That’s less than the price of slow DSL. According to the New York Times, South Korea is planning 1 gig speeds for about the same price to everyone by 2012. France and Japan have 100mbps services in both directions as standard.
These figures show why America is 15th in the world in broadband. Regulators and Congress, while talking up the importance of broadband, are in denial about it. They have refused to actually examine the customer-funding of broadband and have not confronted those who have been the controllers of the critical wireline infrastructure to properly upgrade it.

I have been writing about these problems for Nieman Watchdog since 2006; since then the costs and probems have continued to grow. By the end of 2011, America’s phone customers will have been charged over $340 billion (and counting) for installation of fiber optic cable capable of 45mbps services in both directions. 
There are those who point out that the other countries are smaller, easier to wire, and so on. But almost every state had specific deregulatory plans for rewiring. By 2010, New Jersey, for example -- a fairly compact area -- was supposed to have had 100% completed with 45mbps in both directions.
Ironically, as I have written previously, the FCC is about to raise rates five different ways, claiming that Verizon, ATT and other large firms need even more money in the form of new taxes, surcharges and rate increases. But the companies never built what they had previously committed to, and are still collecting billions annually to upgrade the networks.


Posted by Kaleberg
03/27/2011, 08:22 PM

Yeah, I just checked it out for 98362, and it looks pretty bogus. They list three suppliers, Verizon, AT&T and Crescomm. All three are wireless. Verizon and AT&T providing cellular data services. Crescomm provides rural wireless connectivity. Missing are QWEST with 1.5Mb/s DSL, Wave Broadband with 18Mb/s cable and a host of smaller outfits including TFON who provide rural wireless connectivity like Crescomm.

Same story on Martha's Vineyard
Posted by Al DeVito
03/29/2011, 09:46 AM

Comcast, the major supplier, here (02575), is not even listed. How much did you say this report cost?

Funny Stuff
Posted by dirt_works
03/29/2011, 05:17 PM

To add to the disappointment, keep in mind the map on the right is showing the sampled geographic area from which the data is collected.

In my case, that data is one small city block in a densely populated zip code.

They show 'advertised speed' which we all know is mostly down and very, very slow uploads.

Lastly, the site collects geolocation data. Firefox prompts to send the info. IE users, they are probably collecting more personal information.

Posted by David Clay
04/01/2011, 12:05 PM

Apparently there is no internet service on Vashon Island. Nice work, FCC.

Posted by Mark
04/13/2011, 08:28 PM

The national broadband map is for some reason only configured to accept *addresses* rather than zip codes - if you just enter a zip, that search will place you in the census block right in the middle of your zip code.

When you search, it says "The list below contains broadband providers that have reported offering service to all or part of the area that is shaded on the map to the right." - that map shows what area the stats are for. Quite annoying, and I don't know why it doesn't show stats for a whole zip. Enter your address and you'll get pretty accurate results.

To see rolled up stats about a zip or city, you have to go to http://www.broadbandmap.gov/summarize .... Otherwise, you've gotta wait until they enable zip searching or until someone builds an app that brings in all data from a zip code. There's a massive amount of raw data, I'm sure it can't be too hard to build out that feature.

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