WASHINGTON, June 15 - In an effort to increase the data that the Federal Communications Commission has available as it designs broadband policies, on Thursday the FCC ordered broadband providers to provide the agency with more detailed information.
For the past eight years, broadband providers had to provide the FCC with semi-annual information about the number of subscribers that they have in each ZIP code. Now, they will need to provide the number of subscribers in each Census tract, too.
In a last-minute change sought by AT&T and the non-profit group Free Press, the FCC decided to also require broadband carriers to separate out the number of business from residential customers.
Additionally, under a new form created by the broadband data order, carriers must also say how many of their subscribers within each Census tract fit into each of eight separate speed tiers.
The tiers are as follows:
(1) greater than 200 kbps but less than 768 kbps; (2) equal to or greater than 768 kbps but less than 1.5 mbps; (3) equal to or greater than 1.5 mbps but less than 3.0 mbps; (4) equal to or greater than 3.0 mbps but less than 6.0 mbps, (5) equal to or greater than 6.0 mbps but less than 10.0 mbps; (6) equal to or greater than 10.0 mbps but less than 25.0 mbps; (7) equal to or greater than 25.0 mbps but less than 100.0 mbps; and (8) equal to or greater than 100 mbps.
Data about the numbers of subscribers in each ZIP code is kept by the agency and has not been released to the public. Additionally, the FCC does not release the names of which carriers offer broadband service within a particular ZIP code.
The orders released by the FCC on Thursday make no changes to existing rules regarding the confidentiality of this data.
However, the broadband data order does initiate a new proceeding whereby the FCC will consider how it should voluntarily collect additional broadband data, including data about customer Internet speeds. The agency says it is doing this so that it may propose "a national broadband availability mapping program." It says it wants to consider confidentially rules for such additional data.
The FCC has been under growing pressure for years to collect more comprehensive information about broadband. A variety of public and private initiatives have been launched seeking access to more granular broadband data, including efforts by the California Broadband Task Force, ConnectKentucky, and this publication, BroadbandCensus.com.
Additionally, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed by the Center for Public Integrity, sought the names of broadband providers offering service within each ZIP code. A federal district court judge denied the effort in October 2007.
And at least three pieces of federal legislation seek better data from the FCC and other communications agencies: the “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, introduced by Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the “Connect the Nation Act,” S. 1190, by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Markey's bill has passed the House of Representatives; neither of the Senate measures has passed the chamber.
The broadband order had been pending nearly three months at the communications agency. It was relased together with a separate order modifying its original one. The FCC voted to enhance the reporting details on March 19, but hadn't required broadband carriers to separate out the number of business from residential customers.
FCC Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein applauded the change to separate out business and residential reporting.
"Without this fundamental change, the usefulness of the improvements that we made in March would have been severely compromised," Adelstein said in a Thursday statement released with the revised order. "By now distinguishing between residential and business customers at a more granular level, we will be much better positioned to understand the factors that affect broadband adoption," he said.
Organizations and Topics Mentioned in this Article:
- California Broadband Task Force
- Congresspedia article on Broadband data
BroadbandCensus.com has been closely following the data collection issue. We will issue a statement reacting to the FCC's order later today. Update: Here is the statement.
-Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com
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