The US Federal Communications Commission will once again tell consumers if they're actually getting the broadband speeds touted by internet service providers.
But you'll have to wait a little longer for the nitty-gritty details of which carriers are making good on their advertised promises and which aren't.
The FCC, which hasn't released its Measuring Broadband America Report since 2016, has included results of its latest testing in a new biennial report. An overview of the results was released publicly Wednesday. But the key aspects of the report, which in the past have spelled out which broadband providers were delivering on advertised speeds, isn't included in the report's main text. A more detailed take, which will look at individual providers, is expected to be included in the report's appendix, which will be made public before the FCC's December meeting, according to an agency spokesman.
News of the report's release comes amid scathing criticism from former FCC officials and public interest groups that the commission didn't publish its 2017 report because it was unhappy with the findings, according to the technology website Ars Technica.
The Measuring Broadband America Report, which compiles network speed testing data from 7,000 consumer homes across the US, compares actual broadband speeds with the speeds broadband providers advertise. The purpose of the report is to show consumers if they're getting the network speeds they're paying for.
The information is being released as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the state of the communications marketplace, which the FCC is now required by Congress to produce every two years as part of the Ray Baum's Act of 2018. This new report, called the Communications Marketplace Report, consolidates many of the reports the FCC used to issue separately at different times of the year, according to a blog post published by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday.
"For the first time, the report places essential information about mobile wireless, video, audio, wireline broadband, voice telephony, satellite, broadband deployment and international broadband all in one place," Pai said in the blog.
At a high level, the report issued Wednesday shows that broadband customers subscribing to fiber-based services or services over cable systems continue to experience the highest speed service, while DSL service still languishes both in advertised speeds and actual speeds. But it doesn't show data for specific broadband providers.
The FCC began testing broadband speeds in 2011, under a Democrat-led agency, to compare the speeds consumers actually experience to those advertised by internet service providers, like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. Previous reports specifically stated, which broadband providers delivered on their advertised promises and which did not. Consumer advocates, like Matt Wood of Free Press, said this was a useful tool to help "shame" carriers into improving their service and give people what they are paying for.
But the agency hasn't released this detailed report since the FCC changed hands to Republican control in 2017. This has stirred speculation among critics, including the lone Democrat on the FCC, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, that the FCC is deliberately withholding "essential data" about internet speeds from consumers.
"It's downright unacceptable that the FCC -- which has been collecting data on broadband speeds nationwide -- refuses to make this information public," she said in a statement to CNET. "Why didn't the agency release it last year? Why is it burying it in an appendix to a larger report this year?"
Other critics, like Gigi Sohn, an advisor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and consumer advocacy groups like Free Press, speculate the agency doesn't want to disclose results that may contradict its argument for repealing the 2015 net neutrality rules, according to Ars Technica.
Those rules, which prohibited ISPs from blocking or slowing down access to websites or favoring the ISPs' own services over those of competitors, were rolled back by the FCC last year. Pai has argued that the rules were hurting broadband investment. Earlier this year, he pointed to a USTelecom report suggesting investment in broadband was on the rise since the repeal of net neutrality, even though the rules didn't officially come off the books until June.
"I wonder whether a 2017 report would have undercut the chairman's argument that broadband investment somehow suffered because of the 2015 Open Internet Order," Sohn told Ars Technica. "After all, the data shows that broadband network speeds increased after the order was adopted. If a 2018 report does come out, the FCC should release the 2017 data as well."
When asked by CNET about the criticisms, an agency spokesman said only that the data collected on broadband speed would be included in the report's appendix.
Pai's interpretation of the USTelecom report also comes as large broadband providers, such as Verizon, report a reduction of capital spending for 2019.
The broadband speed report is important for policy makers who are trying to create policies to get more broadband to more people, especially people living in rural parts of the country. Roughly, compared with just 4 percent of urban Americans, according to an FCC report that uses 2016 figures.
The agency is already dealing with major holes in its official maps, which are supposed to identify where broadband and wireless service does and doesn't exist so the FCC can ensure it doesn't subsidize network build-outs in areas that already have coverage. Members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle have slammed the FCC for producing inaccurate maps.
First published Nov. 20, 12:37 p.m. PT.
Updates, 12:52 p.m.: Adds comment from Rosenworcel; Nov. 21 at 12:39 p.m.: Adds that specifics of the report will be included in the appendix, which won't be made public until later.
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