Bush Administration Brags About Broadband; Critics Scoff

National Telecommunications and Information Administration Report Seen as Dubious 1/31/2008 09:08:00 AM Eastern

The Bush administration was blowing its horn about broadband deployment Thursday.

Ethernet cable

In a report, “Networked Nation: Broadband in America, 2007,” the National Telecommunications and Information Administration promoted the statistic that broadband was available in "99% of the nation’s ZIP codes, encompassing 99% of the nation’s population."

The NTIA said the report demonstrated that the administration’s efforts have stimulated broadband competition and investment and contributed "significantly" to broadband access. “Today’s report shows the nation’s broadband success story," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said on the NTIA Web site.

That 99% Federal Communications Commission figure is accurate, FCC chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday. But the FCC is also currently looking to get more granular data for measuring broadband deployment after complaints that if even a single person in a ZIP code gets broadband, the whole ZIP code gets credit for it. Martin added that those improvements should be outlined shortly.

The NTIA also pointed out that in 91.5% of the ZIP codes, there were at least three competing service providers, and six or more in more than one-half of them. And it said the number of broadband lines in the United States has grown by more than 1,100% from 6.8 million to 82.5 million "since President Bush took office."

The Bush administration has made broadband rollout a key technological priority, as has Martin, while many Democratic legislators and administration policy critics have argued that the country continues to lag behind in deployment and speed.

They echoed that argument in response to the reports trumpeting the numbers, suggesting that the song was off key.

"This report relies on widely discredited data in a strained effort that only distracts us from the real work ahead," Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said in a statement. "Rather than bragging about dubious accomplishments, we need to quickly implement a new agenda for expanding our broadband capabilities."

“Networked Nation? If the United States were a networked nation, consumers would be paying half as much for broadband connections 20 times as fast," said fellow Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps. "The NTIA is swimming upstream against the tide of independent reports that seem to come out daily finding that when it comes to broadband, we are falling further and further behind."

Copps added that he took issue with the report’s suggestion that broadband-access problems are confined to rural and sparsely populated pockets. The pockets that the NTIA should be as concerned about are those of consumers in densely populated areas like Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where, he argued, they have to pay "far too much for speeds that are turtle-slow by international standards."

And the hits just kept on coming.

This from Free Press research director Derek Turner: "Declaring 'mission accomplished' won't reverse America's rapid disappearance from the ranks of world broadband leaders."

And this from Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn: “The NTIA report presents a distorted view of the state of broadband in the United States. The administration should not be boasting about our success at a time when consumers here pay more money for slower service with have fewer choices than do consumers in other parts of the world."