A recent report by the US Government Accountability Office shows that data regarding countrywide internet access is wildly inaccurate, overestimating the average citizen’s ability to choose from a wide array of internet service providers, according to The Register. This report is concentrated mostly in tribal lands, but can also help us understand the way the government is allegedly manipulating internet access data.
“The FCC does not collect information on several factors—such as affordability, quality, and denials of service —that FCC and tribal stakeholders stated can affect the extent to which Americans living on tribal lands can access broadband services,” said the report, highlighting the FCC’s spotty and inconsistent data gathering techniques. “Overstatements of access limit FCC’s and tribal stakeholders’ abilities to target broadband funding to such areas. For example, some tribal officials stated that inaccurate data have affected their ability to plan their own broadband networks and obtain funding to address broadband gaps on their lands.”
Form 477 has caused many of the complaints regarding broadband, as it is one of the main culprits of these overstatements of access. It provides data per census block, but even if no one on a census block uses a particular ISP, that ISP can claim 100% availability on that block if just one person has access to it.
In order to respond to this criticism effectively, the GAO suggests that the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai develops new ways to collect and report accurately on specific tribal land broadband access, create a formal process that would provide input from tribal lands regarding the broadband data, and get feedback from tribal areas about the strengths and weaknesses of their service. Pai has expressed his understanding of the current system’s flaws, but has yet to show any intention of making changes to it.
“FCC does not have a formal process to obtain tribal input on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data,” the report red flags. “About half of the tribal stakeholders GAO interviewed raised concerns that FCC relies solely on data from providers, and most stated FCC should work with tribes to improve the accuracy of FCC’s data.”