FCC report uses old data to ‘prove’ net neutrality repeal saved the internet

(Image: © Flickr via USDA)

The FCC is patting itself on the back for restoring progress in broadband deployment and essentially saving the internet. To prove it, the FCC released a report showing that "several companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, and Alaska Communications either commenced or announced new deployments in 2017," and that we should view those deployments as proof that further efforts will be made. And it's all because the FCC overturned net neutrality rules that were put in place under the previous administration.

"Based on the Commission’s actions to accelerate deployment in 2017, the report concludes that the Commission is now encouraging broadband deployment on a reasonable and timely basis," the FCC stated in a press release (PDF).

The FCC concedes that far too many Americans still lack access to high-speed internet, and it will continue to encourage deployment of broadband to more areas, including rural sections.

Combined with the actual report (PDF), it all sounds like a glowing endorsement of the FCC's net neutrality repeal. But as Arstechnica points out, the FCC is leaning on old data to support its claims.

For example, it's true what the FCC said about AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, and Alaska Communications announcing new deployments in 2017. However, three of the four deployments were planned during the Obama administration, two of which received funding before Ajit Pai was chairman. And all four of those ISPs announced plans to expand broadband before Pai was promoted, and when net neutrality rules existed.

In other words, ISPs had already planned broadband expansions long before the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality.

As it pertains to AT&T specifically, the ISP announced last month that it had "fulfilled its promise to make high-speed Internet available to over 440,000 homes and small businesses in hard-to-reach locations across 18 states by the end of 2017." The FCC points to that as further evidence that its net neutrality repeal is having the desired effect. However, there's more to the story.

AT&T was awarded $428 million in annual funding by the FCC in August 2015, when Tom Wheeler was the chairman, to deploy 10Mbps internet to rural areas. As part of that, AT&T was required to deploy broadband to 1.1 million rural homes and businesses over six years, and had to complete 40 percent of those deployments by the end of 2017. AT&T's recent announcement, the one the FCC claims is evidence of restored progress, was in regards to its prior commitment.

The report also points to Verizon and its plan to launch 5G wireless broadband residences in at least five markets this year. However, those plans date back to 2015, with Verizon having started field trials in early 2016.

These are some of several instances of the FCC using old data to support its recent net neutrality repeal.

"This report concludes that in the United States the deployment of broadband to all Americans is reasonable and timely. This is ridiculous—and irresponsible. Today there are 24 million Americans without access to broadband. There are 19 million Americans in rural areas who lack the ability to access high-speed services at home. There are 12 million school-aged children who are falling into the Homework Gap because they do not have the broadband at home they need for nightly schoolwork. Ask any one of them if they think the deployment of the most essential digital age infrastructure is reasonable and timely and you will get a resounding 'No'.To call these numbers a testament to our national success is insulting and not credible," Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said (PDF) in response to the report.

It's far too early to tell what effect the FCC's net neutrality repeal will have on the marketplace. What is clear, however, is that this latest report is misleading.