Controversy Erupts over Broadband Deployment Data Collection

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The continuing rift between Democrat and Republican commissioners at the FCC reared its head again during the Commission’s proceeding to launch its 2021 Broadband Deployment Report.

The FCC’s Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on the methodology for the 2021 survey explains that “because our next Report is due 180 days from the release of this inquiry, we will not have information from the Digital Opportunity Data Collection…in time for use in the next report.”

The vote was 3-2, with both Democrats dissenting on the grounds that the FCC must improve its data collection process BEFORE gathering new data.

Chairman Ajit Pai and his two Republican commissioners, on the other hand, have long maintained that the deployment data is reasonable and timely because steady progress has been made in closing the digital divide. Previous Democrat-led FCCs had disagreed, mainly because broadband was not available to all Americans.

The NOI recognizes that there is still much to be done. “Closing the digital divide.” it says, “and bringing to every American the economic, education, health, civic and social benefits that a broadband connection provides…continues to be the Commission’s top priority.”

Democrat commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, strongly disagreed, saying that “the ugly truth is that when the agency released its last Broadband Deployment Report earlier this year it concluded that broadband deployment was ‘reasonable and timely nationwide.’ In other words, it found all was well. It clapped its hands and said job done. That’s just not right.”

Democrat commissioner Geoffrey Starks also took on the Republican majority, stating that “The Commission continues to repeat its mistakes.” He was also critical of “the Commission’s misleading Form 477 data,” that…has distorted our view of the digital divide…”

Republican commissioners were silent.

Stakeholders have until October 5th to comment on the FCC’s structuring of the new Broadband Deployment survey.