The Federal Communications Commission will once again tell consumers if they are getting the broadband speeds their internet service providers claim they're offering.
The agency, which hasn't released its Measuring Broadband America Report since 2016, confirmed Tuesday that the results of its latest testing will be included in an annual report that will be released publicly on Wednesday.
This comes amid scathing criticism from former FCC officials and public interest groups that the FCC did not 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 are getting the network speeds they are paying for.
The information will be 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 will consolidate 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.
The FCC began testing broadband speeds in 2011, under a Democrat-led agency, to compare the speeds that consumers actually experience to those advertised by internet service providers, like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. But the agency has not released a 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 their own services over competitors, were rolled back by the FCC last year. Chairman 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."
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 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just 4 percent of urban Americans, according to a report from the FCC using 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 aisles have slammed the FCC for producing inaccurate maps.
Updated 12:52 pm.: This story was updated with a comment from FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
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