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BroadbandCensus.com: Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan

in Broadband Data/Expert Opinion by

WASHINGTON, October 30, 2009 – Over the summer, BroadbandCensus.com split our operations between the news and events that we host, and the Creative Commons database with the local broadband SPARC: the Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition in the local broadband marketplace.

As we’ve now entered the fourth year of this saga in which BroadbandCensus.com has been leading the charge for public and transparent broadband data, much has changed about the opportunity that we face, and our country faces, in bringing better broadband data to consumers, and to policy-makers.

In previous versions of this series of blog posts taking stock, I’ve highlighted our efforts to start the ball rolling on crowdsourcing broadband data, and on uniting scholars and state officials through the “Broadband Census for America” conference that we hosted  on the eve of the passage of the Broadband Data Improvement Act.

Today, I’d like to speak about some of the major changes that 2009 has brought to BroadbandCensus.com – particularly as both our news and our data side have helped to set the table for the national broadband plan currently under development. In the final series of these blog posts, I plan to unveil some of the major changes in store as we relaunch BroadbandCensus.com.

Broadband Census Data LLC and the Richland County Map

Later today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will host NTIA will host a public meeting, the Broadband Data Transparency Workshop, “regarding data related to broadband Internet access that the agency collects, data needs of researchers, and future broadband research.” It’s impossible not to be struck by the way in which policy officials are now focused on this vital principle: broadband data should be publicly available. At BroadbandCensus.com, we’ve always viewed transparency about the carriers that provide broadband service as central to building a consumer-friendly database that serves the needs of multiple constituencies.

Because BroadbandCensus.com has also become a prominent news organization in the field of broadband reporting, over the summer our parent entity, Broadband Census LLC split our operations into two separate entities: Broadband Census Data LLC, and Broadband Census News LLC. The data side of our operations on BroadbandCensus.com has been super-active in promoting the need for what we’ve called the National Broadband Mashup, and in proving that a public and transparent broadband map can be done.

One of the key marking points in this activity was the creation of our broadband map for Richland County, South Carolina. Working with Benedict College, an historically black college in Columbia, S.C., and the South Carolina Broadband Coalition, BroadbandCensus.com built a beta map of the 8,078 Census blocks in the county. For each Census block, our team identified the presence or absence of broadband, the type of technology through which broadband was provided, the speeds at which broadband speeds are advertised, and the names of the carriers that offer the service.

We did this in a matter of weeks, and extremely tight budget. The results are visible for all to see at http://BroadbandCensusMaps.com. (Please note: the rendering capacity only works with the Firefox and Safari web browsers. Buildout to Internet Explorer and Chrome await the next phase of the project.) Because the speeds listed in the database that accompanies the broadband map are promised, and not actual speeds, we are working to incorporate the speed test data that we’ve been collecting – at our Take the Broadband Census page – for nearly two years now.

Pushing for Better and More Robust Public Data

Broadband Census Data is also an applicant for federal broadband stimulus funds, under the Public Computing Center portion of the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program. Together with our long-time partners at Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program, BroadbandCensus.com submitted a joint application whose objective is “to develop national-level user-generated data about broadband, focused on public anchor institutions (libraries, schools, colleges, public buildings, civic centers, transportation hubs) by creating a national network of speed test servers; engaging in outreach to public computer centers; [and] building a friendly web interface to collect and publicly release broadband data.” We look forward to review of our application by the NTIA.

Through our Broadband Census Data subsidiary, BroadbandCensus.com has also been extremely involved in private-sector efforts to promote national standard for the collection of public and transparent broadband data. I was very happy to participate as Co-Chair of the Metrics Working Group of the U.S. Broadband Coalition with Rob Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Information Administration. Rob and I led a diverse group to seek common ground in crafting a series of six policy options that will promote – going forward – a much more robust and united approach to collecting and publishing broadband data.

BroadbandCensus.com continued to seek input and collaborate with the top telecommunications researchers and policy analysts. Last month, the Benton Foundation, BroadbandCensus.com, and the New America Foundation hosted a session – we dubbed it “Beer and Broadband Mapping” at the at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference.

Setting the Table with the Broadband Breakfast Club

Even as our data side has had an extremely busy series of months, the news operations of BroadbandCensus.com have also expanded and grown. More than 16 individuals have written for our news side since we began covering broadband technology and internet policy in early 2008 – and posted more than 620 stories on BroadbandCensus.com. Among the reporters and writers who have written for us include Andrew Bennett, Stephen Bone, Winter Casey, Jennifer Clark, Cassandre Durocher, Andrew Feinberg, Rahul Gaitonde, Mercy Gakii, Christina Kirchner, William Korver, Jesse Masai, Tina Nguyen, Douglas Streeks, Cody Williams, Ryan Womack, and Alex Tcherkassky. As I mentioned previously, big changes are in store in the near future, and I look forward to announcing them soon.

Our news side is focused on three coverage areas: the national broadband plan, the broadband stimulus, and wireless broadband policy. I would like to highlight one of our ongoing reporting projects – our coverage of the FCC’s workshops in developing a national broadband plan. As we did with the NTIA’s workshops on crafting the broadband stimulus, and in analyzing comments that parties made in the lead-up to the Notices of Funds Availability, we’ve been sending reporters to cover these events since mid-August, and have assembled a growing collection of these reports, which are available for FREE on our website.

BroadbandCensus.com also hosts Premium Content for our subscribers, which provides analysis and insight into the key areas that we cover.

Perhaps the most visible facet of our news and events operation, however, is the Broadband Breakfast Club. We’ve been hosting this open discussion forum, now held at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, on the Second Tuesday of each month since October 2008. With a wide range of speakers – including House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., the Broadband Breakfast Club’s has become a key destination point for top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy.

Currently, we’re in the midst of a series, “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan,” which will run until February 9, 2010, one week before the FCC’s plan is due to Congress. The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by International Broadband Electric Communications, Inc., the Benton Foundation, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

In September, we considered the FCC’s summer broadband workshops. Earlier this month, we hosted an event on “Health Care and Telemedicine,” with four top doctors who see broadband as a key ingredient to health care reform. Video of the October 13 event is available here, for FREE.

Our forthcoming Broadband Breakfast Club, on broadband and the environment, energy conservation and telecommuting, is taking place on Tuesday, November 10, with panelists including: Jennifer Alcott, Telework!VA Program Manager, Commonwealth of Virginia; Kevin Moss, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, BT Americas; and Steven Ruth, Professor, George Mason University School of Public Policy. Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com

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.

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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