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Indiana's Larry Landis: Mapping Provides a Guide for Broadband Policy

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Broadband Census Indiana (Sidebar)

Editor’s Note: BroadbandCensus.com has been surveying the state of broadband deployment and broadband data within each of the United States and its territories. Click here for the Indiana article.

As part of BroadbandCensus.com’s goal of mapping out broadband speeds, prices, availability, competition and reliability, BroadbandCensus.com recently sponsored (with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program) the “Broadband Census for America Conference” on September 26, 2008. Indiana Utility Regulatory Commissioner Larry Landis was one of the speakers at the event.

The spring 2009 conference, “Broadband Census for America: The New Administration,” is tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 27, 2009.

October 22 – Indiana Commissioner Larry Landis is one of the most knowledgeable state utility regulators on telecommunications and broadband.

In 2005, Landis was named to the Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Telecommunications Services, of which he is now State Chair, by Michael Powell, then-chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Last year he was appointed to a second four-year term on the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Through his service with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), Landis has been a first-hand observer of state efforts to improve broadband connectivity, and, in so doing, to obtain data on broadband infrastructure.

In a conversation with BroadbandCensus.com, Landis reflected on the value of various efforts to obtain broadband data. He also made reference to his earlier work in the private sector, and the impact that high-technology tools can have on such efforts.

“Before I joined the Indiana commission nearly six years ago, I did marketing consulting and worked closely with a company which employed GIS (geographical information systems) mapping technology as an integral part of its core product offering,” he said.

“As a result, for over a decade I have had a great respect for the power of mapping technology to inform business decisions and shape public policy. Nearly three years ago, when I was appointed to the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, and charged with reforming the way in which support was provided for customers and companies in high-cost areas, we took a very close look at the issue. Again, GIS technology was quite useful and provided insights which would not have been achievable without that tool.”

The Commissioner summed up his thoughts on the impact of good data on policy-making with the following reminder: “If you are trying to decide where you are going to go, it sure helps if you have a map to guide you on your way. In that regard, things haven’t changed much since the days of Lewis and Clark. But the quality of the tools is incomparably superior.”

Having participated in recent forums with state and national policy makers to discuss efforts across the country to better assess the availability and quality of broadband service, including Pike & Fischer’s Broadband Policy Summit IV and the fall 2008 Broadband Census for America Conference (both held in Washington), Commissioner Landis said he understands the range of challenges impacting broadband data initiatives.

He noted that there are different models being developed at the state level to obtain “actionable data” on broadband. The proliferation of such initiatives offers a great deal in the way of “best practices” for other states to utilize in addressing their own unique broadband needs.

For example, the challenge of obtaining and sharing quality data on broadband infrastructure without compromising broadband carriers’ proprietary and competitively sensitive information has been cited by many state officials involved in broadband data initiatives. Landis said that many state models overcome this hurdle.

“Generally speaking, telecom providers have been more comfortable with an independent, public-private entity which can provide additional contractual guarantees as to the confidentiality of that data,” Landis said.“This approach has the added advantage that the entity which administers the program has a singular, rifle-shot mission, focus and approach. Quite a few successful state programs are built on this independent public-private model.”

While Indiana has not explicitly developed a public-private entity for broadband data gathering, distribution, and coordination of wide-scale efforts to improve the infrastructure, Landis sees many opportunities for such efforts in the Hoosier state.

“Here in Indiana, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), which has proven highly successful in attracting new businesses and growing existing businesses even in challenging economic times, is built on just such a public-private model.”

Landis hopes that improved data on broadband will be a key contributor to larger policies to incentivize the expansion of broadband services in Indiana.

According to Landis, Indiana has already seen a great deal of progress in improving broadband because of a shift to less regulation. Indiana was one of the first states to pass a state-wide video franchising law, enabling Bell and other telecom companies to enter the pay-television marketplace without obtaining permission from county officials.

Landis also cited the efforts of Indiana University’s Research Network Operations Center, the work of Lt. Governor Becky Skillman’s Rural Development Program, and a variety of state-chartered fiber networks for delivering better broadband to vital educational and rural sectors.

In spite of progress by commercial carriers, Landis sees acute challenges ahead.

“We have come to what I called the ‘remnant’ at last month’s Broadband Census for America Conference: those who are beyond the reach of current technological limitations, and are therefore not currently served by land lines, by cable or by fixed wireless…. That’s what the current discussions in Indiana are focusing on.”

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3 Comments

  1. While the RBOCs may appear to favor shifting the task of broadband coverage mapping over to private sector players, it is worth observing that the most dominant player in this private sector mapping is largely funded by the RBOCs, from whom they also take board guidance. It is also worth noting that their statistics and maps are almost universally skewed to show approximately 30 percent more broadband availability that actually exists in most of the key areas mapped. In addition, most of their “official maps” still reflect broadband to be 256 Kbps. Close examination of these efforts will show that the skewed statistics have benefited the efforts of the RBOCS with regard to State lobbying efforts, especially those related to the issue of being granted statewide video franchise authority. For their complicity, the States have been able to show much higher “Broadband” penetration than truthful mapping would ever reveal, which plays into their own strategy to attract investments, such as corporate and industrial relocation, based on their progress in deployment of Broadband Services. These same “doctored” statistics keep the heat off of the RBOCS related to Rural and Municipal Broadband Initiatives that might seek to weaken the RBOC share of the market. Touting the safeguarding of consumer privacy and even proprietary and strategic corporate information is little more than a convenient veil.

  2. Regarding the comment that telecom providers are more comfortable with broadband mapping performed by public-private firms as a way of safeguarding privacy, it is worth noting that the broadband coverage maps developed by these players almost universally report Broadband penetration rates at least 30 percent higher than can be accurately verified. The vast majority of their maps also still show “Broadband Service” to be 256 Kbps. It is also important to note that the dominant player in this “Public-Private” space is heavily funded by the RBOCs, who also sit on their board. You will find that their broadband maps have served the RBOCs particularly well in their State lobbying efforts, especially regarding Statewied Video Franchise Authority. For their complicity the states economic development efforts to attract industrial and corporate relocation have benefited from these skewed statistics, while weakening Rural and Municipal Broadband initiatives that would erode the RBOC market share. Consumer privacy and the safeguarding of strategic and proprietary data is a convenient veil for a process that ultimately pulls the wool over the eyes of legislators and the public.

  3. It still is better than what happens in other areas, when broadband providers say that it’s unlimited, then put a limit to it because they say that the unlimited users are taxing the system.

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