NTIA Losing Game of Data Chicken
NTIA Losing Game of Data Chicken
NTIA Losing Game of Data Chicken

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    A week or so ago we posed this choice: “At the end of the day, somebody is going to be in control of the mapping. It will either be the public, and the public interest, as represented by NTIA, or the industry.”

    It appears that may have been, at least in part, a false choice. The NTIA has already started backing off its data-collection notice, in this Federal Register notice.

    There was no reason to give away much of anything to start. Certainly, the mapping notice of funds availability (NOFA) had its numerous problems. Fixing it would require a month or so delay to get it right — something some of us requested.

    NTIA didn't do that. But in the face of the massive industry lobbying, NTIA started making concessions. The biggest one is that it backed off of the detailed speed data. Instead of reporting maximized advertised upstream and download speeds at the address level, NTIA now requires only speeds across service areas or local franchise areas.

    That change is a monumental mistake, made for no reason. Speeds across such a wide area can very widely. At the address level, it would be possible to see where and how service is being deployed. At the service area level, it all averages out — the god and the bad, demonstrating nothing at all.

    NTIA also lifted restrictions for reporting the crucial “middle mile” connection data, and for the average revenue per user. The second one wasn't going to be reported anyway, because the phone and cable companies weren't going to give it up. The middle mile data may have been more accessible. It certainly wasn't worth surrendering.

    If this mapping exercise is going to be worth even 1/10 of the money Congress appropriated, it's about time for the government to step away from the table with the industry, remind itself of its public interest obligations and quit giving away the store. It doesn't matter if it was a “good deal” or a “bad deal” to make those changes. There was no reason for any deal. Either scrap the program, extend the deadlines and start over, or hold the industry to some meaningful commitments. NTIA has to choose, and these choices to start the gradual surrender process are not at all auspicious.