Boucher Echoes Free Press Criticisms Of FCC Deployment Figures

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Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chair of the House Communications & Internet Subcommittee, commended the Federal Communications Commission for the plan. He said the agency had done a "truly outstanding job" sifting through the comments and coming up with a plan. But  he's worried it had not accurately reflected broadband deployment.

The hearing focused on deployment to unserved and underserved areas, including rural areas like much of his district. He said he wanted to insure access at "meaningful speeds and "truly affordable prices." Plan found that 95% had access to at least 4 Mbsp download service, leaving only about 7 million without service. Boucher said he had "serious concerns" about the accuracy of that figure, echoing concerns raised by Free Press in prepared testimony for the hearing.

Boucher said the broadband availability map for his own district overreports figures, and said he was sure it had happened elsewhere.

"I can't consider those projections to be reliable," he said.

Boucher said there remain many areas without access to broadband, or at only slow speeds and high prices.

Ranking committee member Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) invoked the BitTorrent decision as a warning to take a light touch on broadband regulation. He pushed for letting the unfettered free market build out broadband. He said he was not saying government should have no role, but that it should target the remaining 5%, rather than the 95% that have it. Stearns did not express any reservations about that 95% figure.

"Congress and the FCC must not revert to failed regulatory ideas," he said, like net neutrality or forcing access to facilities.

Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said consumers should have access from a "variety of providers." he gave a shout out to lowering pole attachment rates and transforming the Universal Service Fund into a broadband fund. He praised the FCC for launching its USF proceeding in its public meeting today (April 21).

John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said he was "conflicted" about the plan: "Before we deploy we ought to map." He also said the FCC needs to define the standard speed, whether it is 4 Mbps or 100. He said he rejected the suggestion that it is the government's role to support overbuilders.

Democratic Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) agreed that accurate data is indispensable.