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How to Achieve Open and Public Broadband Mapping

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A recent post to the Open Infrastructure Alliance mailing list:

WASHINGTON, July 28 – I am heartened to see the very active discussion that is now taking place around the issue of “public-private partnerships.”

And David Reed’s comments raise the issue of the lack of transparency, which is of particular concern, particularly when the public-private partnership aims to speak for the “public.”

I’ve recently started up BroadbandCensus.com, a web service devoted to providing, for free, public information about not only broadband availability — but also about broadband competition, broadband speeds, and broadband prices. You can read more about us at http://broadbandcensus.com/home/aboutus

BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census LLC, a private company that I set up in order to run the web site, and to make it available to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License. Our license ensures that all public entities, academic institutions, and others, may make non-commercial use of the contents of our web site — for free — so long as they provide attribution. We receive no funding from broadband providers, but are supported by contributions from the Benton Foundation, and under a contract with the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

On the issue of broadband mapping, I’ve been struck by the disconnect between the ostensible need for broadband mapping — to ensure that government officials and others have knowledge of where broadband is and isn’t — and the public posture of broadband carriers against the release of data, currently held by the FCC, that would facilitate this very purpose; see http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=104

This recent TechDirt post, at http://www.techdirt.com/article.php?sid=20080717/1713101713, captures some of the potential problems with a private company that acts in the name of the public:

“But what does Connected Nation actually do? Basically tells the rest of the government that everything is groovy and not to do anything. Officially it takes taxpayer money to create its own questionable maps about broadband penetration, most of which come back showing that there’s plenty of broadband penetration (nothing to see here, move along now). Then it sends out marketing material to local leaders about the importance of broadband — effectively advertising incumbent telco broadband offerings with taxpayer money.”

The only glitch in this argument is that doesn’t “effectively” advertise incumbent telco offerings — because these maps don’t show, in any systematic way, which carriers are, and where the carriers aren’t, offering broadband. For that, one has to look to the government of Ireland.

As BroadbandCensus.com noted in a recent filing at the FCC, http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=119, the “Broadband Information” web site of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of the Government of Ireland includes a listing, in Ireland, of all available broadband services, promised download and upload speeds, contention ratios, and monthly subscription fees. The site includes a fully searchable map and includes a web site and e-mail contact for each carrier. http://broadband.gov.ie

If broadband carriers really want to engage in broadband mapping — and get free advertising from the government, to boot — all they have to do is look across the Atlantic!

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club. He tracks the development of Gigabit Networks, broadband's impact, and the universal service fund @BroadbandCensus. He is also Of Counsel with the firm of Best Best & Krieger LLP. The articles and posts on BroadbandBreakfast.com and affiliated social media, including LinkedIN, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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