Form 477 Data Inadequate for Broadband Planning, Commissioners Told

Broadband Data, FCC, National Broadband Plan September 29th, 2009

, Reporter, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2009 – Current broadband mapping data is not specific enough in detail to help the Federal Communications Commission produce a national broadband plan, despite recent revisions to agency data-collection practices,  staff members said Tuesday.

That assessment came during presentations at the agency’s marathon open meeting, which lasted more than three hours and included presentations from many members of the broadband task force, which is responsible for crafting a strategy by February 2010. The workshoprepresented an opportunity for a “mid-course correction” after numerous open workshops and public meetings – an open process that chairman Julius Genachowski (D) called “unparalleled in FCC history.”

The most important part of the process is starting by examining the facts already in the record, said Omnibus Broadband Initiative Managing Director Eric Garr. But while Garr welcomed the numerous participants in the process so far, he asked for more information and less rhetoric.

“Bring opinions, but also bring your data,” he said.

Outside data is especially important to the process because the commission lacks needed information, said broadband task force head Blair Levin. “The task we are being asked to do cannot be done with the resources we have,” he said.

The commission’s lack of resources is especially evident in the inadequacy of broadband availability data, staff members told the commissioners during group presentations.

Despite revisions to the FCC’s Form 477 in June 2008 to collect broadband service availability at the Census tract level – instead of the ZIP code level – the commission still lacks enough information to determine where service is available and where it is not.

Data must be collected at a more granular level to properly assess broadband availability, staffers said. While the revised Form 477 collects data by Census tract, a proper analysis can only be conducted at the Census block level, they said.

To give a sense of the orders of magnitude, there are approximately 31,000 geographic-based ZIP codes, an estimated 61,000 Census tracks, approximately 200,000 Census block groups, and about 8,000,000 Census blocks.

Availability data must also be collected separate from demand. Data collected on households that subscribe to service by speed is inadequate for the purposes of a national plan when the commission needs to know service availability regardless of “take rate,” they said.

Further complicating matters is that there is no single data set of “all relevant broadband infrastructure” in existence. An appropriate data set would gather information both on pricing and provide the commission with a baseline from which the cost of building new infrastructure could be calculated.

And infrastructure capability is inadequately represented in current data, the staff reported. While carriers report on their advertised speed, the commission must collect information on actual throughput delivered to consumers independently from advertised rates.

The staff reports on the inadequacy of the revised Form 477 came only days after the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners filed a petition for declaratory ruling which would assert the States’ right to collect data at a more granular level than the commission currently does as part of the states’ obligations under the Broadband Data Improvement Act and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

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