ViaSat doesn’t want you to know its customers still choke on FCC broadband tests

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

ViaSat showed the best speed and consistency in the FCC’s latest round of national broadband testing, but those same measurements also show that its subscribers don’t get anywhere near as much data as landline customers. Similar to last year’s poor report card, the FCC results show that about a third of ViaSat’s customers get less than 2 gigabytes a month and only one of those tested hit over 10 GB.

That data is controversial. This year and last, only 6 customers were measured, versus hundreds for fiber and more than a thousand for DSL and cable. ViaSat complained last year (and this year) that there were other problems with the measuring methodology but ecstatically flaunted the results it did like. Don’t take the objections at face value.

The FCC does, though, up to a point. It suppressed the ViaSat consumption numbers in its published report, but kept it available in the reference data

As our program has evolved, we have moved to a [test equipment] configuration which has eased consumer installation, but this is not without some drawbacks. In particular, ViaSat has noted that this newer configuration complicates our ability to produce a reliable data consumption metric for satellite broadband. Consequently, for this Report, we have removed ViaSat/Exede from the data consumption charts, though this information is included in our bulk data releases.

Complicates it, doesn’t prevent it. If the data were truly garbage, the FCC would have thrown it out, as it did (and documented) in other cases. I produced the chart above using those numbers.

In most respects, the omission doesn’t matter much. Satellite is different from terrestrial wireline and wireless service – it’s a matter of physics and economics. Using extremely expensive orbital hardware to reach scattered and often price-conscious consumers is not a free ride. The trade-offs are well known, and offer a valuable addition to the broadband toolkit.

But in one respect it matters a lot: ViaSat is asking the California Public Utilities Commission for $11.1 million in subsidies for a vast swath of western California and has tried to make the argument that it should be treated the same as wireline providers. Which would mean, under current rules, that anyone living under the ViaSat footprint would be excluded from any future wireline upgrade subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund, locking them into costly and stingy satellite service.

The CPUC should just say no. Its rules require CASF satellite grant recipients to “prove functionality” in addition to speed, and a high cost/low cap service, of any kind, isn’t functional in the 21st century. I’ve said it before: Californians deserve better.

Original source spreadsheet with data consumption stats, from FCC website
Modified spreadsheet, from my website
Compare the two. The changes I made were to include the ViaSat data in the chart and relabel it accordingly, and use a heavier line for emphasis.

2014 Measuring Broadband America – main page

2014 Measuring Broadband America – Fixed Broadband Report

2014 Measuring Broadband America – Technical Appendix