Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Industry Think Tank Pretends U.S. Broadband Secretly Awesome

When you're indisputably mediocre in nearly every broadband ranking due to limited competition and regulatory capture, what's a monopoly and/or duopoly broadband market to do? For much of the last decade the U.S. broadband industry's answer to that question is to shell out millions to fauxcademics, astroturfers, paid think tankers and assorted hired flacks to argue that United States broadband is secretly awesome and you just didn't know it.

The tactic is far more successful than it should be, thanks to a press that often fails to correctly illustrate corporate financial ties to these groups and individuals.

Industry-funded (predominately AT&T) Information Technology & Innovation Foundation this week polluted the discourse well further with a 76 page report (pdf) effectively arguing that anyone who notices U.S. broadband is highly uncompetitive and over-priced is hallucinating.

In what appears to be an attempted PR broadside against the positive attention Susan Crawford is getting for pointing out our broadband problems, the ITIF study contradicts the numerous studies showing U.S. broadband is painfully average.

The study proudly proclaims the country "enjoys robust intermodal competition between cable and DSL fiber-based facilities," and that we're just saturated with fiber to the home connections. In reality of course U.S. competition is stagnant, things are about to get less competitive as AT&T and Verizon dump unwanted DSL users in cable's lap, and the only serious incumbent FTTH expansion (FiOS) is totally frozen.

There's an ocean of delicious, nonsensical, and reality-bending claims in the ITIF report, which Ars Technica's Cyrus Farivar does a wonderful job debunking point by point. The whole thing is worth a read, but one high point of the story is this quote by Public Knowledge's Harold Feld:

"The ITIF report turns our national broadband policy into a self-esteem exercise, on par with one of those contests where everyone wins an award,” Harold Feld, of Public Knowledge, in an e-mail to Ars. “'Hooray! We tried real hard and we're not so bad after all.' But this isn't summer camp. This is our digital future. If we want a world-class broadband infrastructure, we need to stop coming up with explanations for why things aren't really so bad after all and start dealing with the real problems right in front of our eyes."

Granted the entire purpose of folks like the ITIF is to convince regulators, the press and public that there is no problems that need fixing. A mammoth swath of the nation on $70 3 Mbps DSL lines, stuck on satellite broadband, or wedged in between two apathetic duopoly players -- respectfully disagree.

Read more here...

The Truth

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