How Data Can Help Broadband Deployment, Bridge Digital Divide

Economic Analysis Is Crucial to Shaping an Effective Digital Empowerment Agenda

WASHINGTON — Yesterday, TechFreedom outlined a research agenda on the state of American broadband deployment and what government at all levels can do — and stop doing — to help bridge the digital divide in the most cost-effective way. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Science Foundation had asked for public input in shaping their National Broadband Research Agenda.

The comments filed to NTIA and NSF recommend that any broadband research teams supported by NTIA and NSF must include an economist, and that all research should be framed in economic terms. The filing includes this caution:

The problem is not data collection, but analysis. Simply collecting more or even significantly higher-quality data will do little to ensure that American broadband policy actually serves consumers. The FCC — under both Democratic and Republican Chairmen — has become so accustomed to manipulating data to suit a preconceived outcome that it will be difficult to break the agency of this habit. The NSF simply cannot assume that the research it supports will speak for itself or that the FCC can be relied upon to do additional research based on NTIA’s underlying research. Instead, any research funded under this grant should be framed in economic terms.

“NTIA and NSF have a golden opportunity to fill the analytical vacuum at the FCC,” said Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom. “The agency has become so politicized over the last decade, shamelessly contorting data to justify its regulatory agenda. Even worse, the FCC has conjured a false choice between an imperfect (but, actually, always-improving) status quo and government-run fiber. Private providers are continually investing tens of billions of dollars in iterative upgrades, pushing fiber deeper into their network and squeezing more speeds out of the ever-shrinking loop between the home and the fiber network. Despite that, the FCC insists that only the costliest option — fiber-to-the-home service — is ‘future-proof,’ and taxpayers should foot the bill.”

“There are a range of things government can do to make upgrades cheaper and clear the way for new entrants,” continued Szóka. “Much of that is common sense: cutting red tape, lowering fees, and the like. It may also mean investing in fiber-ready infrastructure, like Dig Once conduits, as public-private partnerships. But before government starts throwing money at the problem, we need more careful analysis about what makes deployment expensive and how to get the biggest broadband bang for the taxpayer’s buck.”


We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See our other work on broadband deployment, including:

  • Comments on the FCC’s 2016 evaluation of broadband deployment
  • Our letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on how to best encourage broadband deployment.
  • Op-ed in Wired: “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments that Choke Broadband Competition
  • Our statement on the FCC’s plan to remove barriers to the deployment of new wireless infrastructure
  • Tech Policy Podcast #119: FCC Loses on Government Broadband
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