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Figures Don’t Lie, But….

By 13 October 2010 2 Comments

I’ve long taken the position that making policy recommendations based solely on studies or statistics is chancy at best, because the numbers derived to make the policy recommendations are, themselves, subject to lots of question. In the “net neutrality” debate things have gotten even worse; the entire premise, at times, seems to be that we are somehow “behind” someone else and therefore we have to “do something”… in this case adopt an entirely restrictive regulatory regime, to “fix” the problem/crisis.

As many have pointed out, there is no crisis. But leaving that aside, the fear that we are somehow “losing” some race energizes the debate. An editorial in the October issue of Scientific American has regrettably fallen into this same construct. American broadband speeds are too slow, and cost too much. But what does that mean, how reliable are the numbers and studies “supporting” that contention, and what’s the significance of “slow” or “fast” speed in the first place? What do consumers actually want, or need, based on their own choices, rather than those of the professional “advocates?’

You had to know that a response to all these questions was on the way. It has arrived. As the press release says:

“A recent editorial on U.S. broadband is based on a flawed understanding of broadband data, addresses the wrong issues, and distracts from real policy concerns, states Scott Wallsten in “Scientific American’s Flawed Broadband Analysis,” published today by the Technology Policy Institute.”

Read it. Wallsten, TPI’s Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow does an excellent job of questioning both the validity and the significance of the numbers and conclusions. As the old saying goes; figures don’t lie, but liars can figure!


  • Garrett said:

    Interesting report. I have to admit I’m suspicious of a couple of the claims and as you noted am concerned that these figures have been rigged to make them look appealing to a certain agenda. In particular I would have liked to have seen the charts which showed pricing plans all have similar binning. Look at France’s binning(50?) If you applied that to the US ALL of the consumers would be in the <50 tier.

    I also worry about the anti-unbundling argument. It is simple to see the effects of unbundling on telephone loops, a vast competitive market, and while they state that Japan's unbundled fiber lines are so expensive, Japan also has some of the best broadband in the world! I wonder how they can say that unbundling doesn't work when using Japan as an example of failure…

    Overall a good report to read and consider. Thanks for the post!

  • Tech at Night: Lots more Net Neutrality said:

    […] to the conservative grassroots and the TEA party. Our side has been resistant to any action (Because as Digital Society points out, we don’t support action for its own sake), but the Obama FCC just might not give us any […]