On Wednesday, I testified at an informational hearing before the House Telecom Subcommittee of the Minnesota Legislature. Connected Nation was giving an update on their contract to map broadband availability in Minnesota and I wanted to record some dissent regarding their claims and the usefulness of maps in general.
For those who have not used the Connected Nation tool, it is horrible. The interface is as klunky as can be, with significant lag between clicking the screen and anything actually occurring. I am happy to note that they will soon be rolling out a better tool that may be better, though it appears to still need a fair amount of work before it would really be effective.
I noted that I see no reason to trust their maps. As I have previously ranted, Connected Nation is a creature of the telecommunications industry and acts in their interests. They appear to systematically overstate availability (which may simply be a function of the unreliable information the companies provide to them).
I spot checked a few addresses where I know firsthand what is available and found claims of much faster speeds. Connected Nation has always been clear that when anyone finds discrepancies, CN will correct the map. How generous. They get millions to make inaccurate maps and we get to spend hours trying to get their tool to work and then send them corrections. This is not a good process.
Beyond the Connected Nation problem is the fact that legislatures across the country have refused to ask for the data that matters. Without cost information, how are we to make policy or even judge what speeds are "available." If the only option is a 1Mbps/256kbps connection for $80/month, is that really an option for people living in a rural area where incomes tend to be lower? Hardly.
Without cost information, there is little these maps will tell us. Unfortunately, companies like the new CenturyTelQwestLinkNetDoDah don't want to advertise their high rates and slow services, so they claim all that information is proprietary. As if the few competitors they have don't already know what they charge.
My final point was that we should not wait for maps to move forward with good policy. Lafayette did not make a map before building the best broadband network in America. They knew they already had DSL and cable options, but they also knew that those options are inadequate options for the 21st century, especially as other countries are building better infrastructure.
Rather than leaving this post as a downer, I wanted to note two good stories.
AT&T has settled a lawsuit with people who did not receive the DSL speeds AT&T promised. Service providers should be held responsible for at least coming close to the speeds they advertise.
In a perhaps-not-entirely-related story, cable and dsl service providers may soon have to stop misrepresenting their last-century networks as "fiber". This cannot happen fast enough. Comcast does not have a fiber network. Qwest's "Fiber Fast" DSL is slower than many cable networks.
It is high time these companies get busted for misleading advertising.
Photo, courtesy Mulad on flickr