FCC Broadband maps shown unreliable

The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently looked at what the FCC reports for broadband coverage in Rochester MN and what’s actually there. They found…

Our results confirm what a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has expressed concern over: federal broadband data is deeply flawed.

The FCC data comes from self-reporting via Form 477. What I’ve heard from providers over the years is that these forms are overwhelming to complete. The report recognizes the flaws of self-reporting…

The overwhelming failure of broadband mapping results from several factors. Large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities. Small providers often have trouble completing the FCC Form 477. This form requires 39 pages of instructions on how to properly complete it. Providers are supposed to submit it every 6 months, but many small providers find it confusing and frustrating- taking too much time to produce data that has dubious value given the flaws. Larger providers have plenty of staff to handle the form and seem to benefit the most from its flaws, as this data is often used to determine whether government programs should invest additional funds into an area, often by a competitive grant program. Areas that appear to be well covered will not result in more investment, leaving the incumbent providers without fear of competition.

Here is the coverage (number of providers versus population) for speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 up

Versus 100 Mbps (which is the state speed goal by 2026)…

There’s a ten-fold difference in number of unserved residents.

They also compare coverage of wired-only access:

Versus wired & wireless service…

What they found is that there is much greater competition, pricing and speeds in town as compared to the outskirts or outside of town…

The rural communities surrounding Rochester, Minnesota have few fast, affordable, and reliable Internet service options. The urban areas enjoy some limited broadband competition. Still, most residents can only access broadband with speeds greater than 100 Mbps through Charter. A majority of the rural communities around Rochester rely on fixed wireless connections. The broadband tiers from fixed wireless providers are often more expensive than wireline broadband. The two fixed wireless providers that advertise Internet access at broadband speeds around Rochester are Hiawatha Broadband Communications’ Air Internet division and RadioLink. Hiawatha Broadband Communications charges $64.99 per month for a 25 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload connection.8 RadioLink charges $85 per month for a 30 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload connection.

Within Rochester, broadband is more affordable and has faster speeds than outlying areas. As of July 2018, Charter Communications charges $30 for 100 Mbps download for one year if the service is bundled with a cable subscription in Rochester, but the service appears to cost $65 without promos or bundling and before the many fees that are tacked on.10 CenturyLink has an online offer for 40 Mbps download for $45 in Rochester, but that only applies to addresses located very close to the DSLAM and again does not include the added fees.11 Jaguar Communications offers a Fiber-to-the-Home network in select portions of the city. In a phone call, they confirmed that fiber services cost $69.95 per month for 125 Mbps download speeds, where available.

One of the main reasons we need to care about what can be seen as the minutia of technology is that policies are written and public funds spent based on these numbers. The ILSR presents one example…

In 2015, City Council member Ed Hruska claimed, “We have 19 local broadband providers and, of those, we have two cable providers, six DSL providers, four fiber providers, three fixed wireless providers and four mobile providers.”4 Our analysis shows that broadband competition in Rochester is actually far more limited.

As a whole, this may (or may not) be true about Rochester – but people need to understand that is is not ubiquitously true. If we can recognize the digital divide within and around the city, the digital divide more is likely to deepen.

This entry was posted in FCC, MN, Research, Rural, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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