FCC Broadband Report Based On Faulty Data, Free Press Says

The Federal Communications Commission recently boasted in a draft report that broadband service in the U.S. is improving, both in terms of availability and speed.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the improved numbers support the agency's recent moves, including “removing barriers to infrastructure investment” -- an apparent reference to the repeal of net neutrality rules.

“This report shows that our approach is working,” he boasted last month.

But some of the report's conclusions are based on errors made by the Internet service provider BarrierFree, according to the advocacy group Free Press.

The FCC report draws on filings by carriers twice a year. BarrierFree said in a December 2017 filing that it offered fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless service at speeds of nearly 1 GB to Census blocks containing almost 62 million people, according to Free Press. 



That claim struck Free Press as dubious.

“This claimed level of deployment stood out to us for numerous reasons, including the impossibility of ... going from serving zero Census blocks as of June 30, 2017, to serving nearly 1.5 million blocks containing nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population in just six months time,” the group writes in a filing submitted to the FCC this week.

BarrierFree acknowledges that its December 2017 filing contained a mistake. “A portion of the submission was parsed incorrectly in the upload process,” the company said in an email to MediaPost. “With the government shutdown in January, we were unable to submit revised documents before the full report went live.”

BarrierFree added that it's working with the FCC to correct the data.

Free Press says the erroneous information from BarrierFree resulted in “a massive over-statement of the change in broadband deployment at the national level during 2017.”

The FCC draft report said 19.4 million Americans lacked broadband access in 2017, down from 26 million who had no broadband access in 2016. But Free Press says BarrierFree accounted for a good portion of the difference. If BarrierFree's figures are removed from the calculations, 21.3 million Americans lack broadband access.

The advocacy group is urging the FCC to hold off on releasing the final report until questions about BarrierFree's report are answered.

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