It's no secret that the Federal Communications Commission doesn't have the best track record when it comes to measuring broadband.
The agency determines broadband availability based on information supplied by internet service providers, which don't always get it right. In 2017, for instance, the provider BarrierFree incorrectly reported that it offered fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless service to census blocks containing almost 62 million people.
Based on that data, the FCC wrote in a draft report about broadband deployment that 19.4 million Americans lacked access in 2017.
Advocacy group Free Press spotted BarrierFree's error and notified the FCC, spurring the agency to revise its report to state that 21.3 million Americans lacked broadband access.
In August, the FCC took a step to improve its data: The agency voted to require providers to submit maps showing exactly which areas they serve within census blocks. In the past, the agency only asked providers whether they offered service anywhere in a census block. The FCC also said it will incorporate feedback from the public in future broadband mapping efforts.
But the moves are not nearly enough to fix the FCC's broadband data problem, a coalition of seven watchdogs is telling the agency.
“The Commission must make more robust changes to accurately understand the state of broadband access and adoption across the country,” Access Now, New America's Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge and other organizations say in a filing with the FCC.
The groups ask the agency to collect a host of granular data, including “address-level broadband deployment data” showing where providers offer service, and detailed information about how actual upload and download speeds compare to advertised speeds.
Access Now and the others also want the FCC to gather information on pricing, arguing that cost is “one of the biggest barriers to broadband adoption and price is a primary reason why millions of Americans do not have high-speed broadband access.”
They add that 42% of homes that earn less than $20,000 a year have wireline broadband service, compared to 83% of households earning more than $100,000 a year.
“Despite the importance of pricing data, no government agency collects this information,” they write. “That must change, and the Commission is ideally situated to collect this data through its existing reporting requirements for broadband providers.”
Back in August, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel made a similar argument when the FCC voted to require some additional data from broadband providers.
“If we want a truly accurate picture of broadband service across the country we are setting ourselves up for problems by not even asking how price and affordability plays a role,” she stated at the time. “Here’s the thing: it plays a big one.”
She added: “We have a long way to go before the public can trust our broadband data is accurate.”