FCC accepts incumbent’s broadband availability claims at face value

by Steve Blum • , , ,

An interactive map and a big spreadsheet listing census blocks (careful, it’s 50 MB-plus) that are eligible for participation in the FCC’s rural broadband experiments has been posted (h/t to Tom Glegola at the CPUC for the pointer).

The rules mean different census blocks qualify for different aspects of the program, but some way, some how, all are eligible. Judging by what the FCC’s press release says, the spreadsheet is definitive: “census blocks not on this list are not eligible for funding in the rural broadband experiments”.

Comparing the spreadsheet data with the interactive map, it appears that the census blocks in the spreadsheet are 1. only in areas that are more expensive to serve, as defined by the FCC’s model (which is the core requirement of the program) and 2. don’t have an unsubsidised incumbent claiming to offer at least 3 Mbps download and 768 Kbps upload speeds.

This availability data is the same as that submitted by incumbents to the California Public Utilities Commission and used to determine eligibility for its broadband subsidy programs. Much of it accurately reflects actual conditions on the ground, but quite a bit doesn’t – I know that from hard experience. Regardless, the FCC is just accepting those claims at face value.

The FCC is accepting challenges to that data until 14 August 2014, but it’s likely to be too late to help applicants for rural broadband experiment grants. The review, reply and evaluation procedure is all but guaranteed to extend well beyond the mid-October deadline for applications. The data is used for other purposes, so it’s not a completely wasted effort, but that’s thin comfort for those who hope to take part in the experiments.

There’s always the question of whether the FCC really means what it says – grant programs have a way of growing a forest of exceptions and waivers – but there’s no question that by relying solely on the incumbent’s data, the FCC is putting some applicants at a serious disadvantage.