Consumer group accuses FCC of politics

Consumer group Teletruth has filed a complaint against the FCC accusing the agency of being politically motivated to inflate reports of broadband growth. The group said that the FCC has been reporting misleading data about the number of broadband connections in the United States.

Specifically, it's taken issue with an editorial that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wrote for the Wall Street Journal on July 7th, which stated the U.S. is first in the world in terms of actual broadband subscribers.

The problem Teletruth finds with this statement is that it counts subscribers with broadband speeds of 200kbps. The group argues that in the 1990s broadband was defined by the phone companies and the FCC as a service that could provide up to 45mbps in both directions. Teletruth claims that the phone companies were given financial incentives by the government to upgrade their networks to the 45mbps level, but never delivered on their promises.

The group claims that the FCC has lowered the speed to define broadband to make it look like the phone companies are on track to help fulfill President Bush's mandate for universal broadband access.

I can see why Teletruth is annoyed. A lot of promises were made in the 1990s. But the reality is that the world is a different place from what it was in 1992. The Internet and telecommunications bubbles burst. WorldCom, along with many other carriers, went bankrupt. Companies and private investors lost billions of dollars. The Bell phone companies themselves struggled to keep their heads above water.

The truth of the matter is that today in 2005, the telecommunications industry is just starting to get back on its feet. I think everyone would have loved to see 45mbps service, but it's hard to invest in new networks when the economy is in the toilet.

So are politics at play in the FCC? Of course, it's Washington, DC. Commissioners are appointed by the White House. What would you expect? But I don't think the FCC is deliberately distorting the information it releases for political gain. I think the agency is just being more realistic today about broadband given the financial state of the industry. Afterall, fiber optic networks aren't cheap to build. Just ask Verizon.

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