United States Broadband Data Lacks Consistency, Actual Speeds, Says GAO

Broadband Data, Broadband Stimulus, NTIA October 11th, 2009

, Reporter-Researcher, BroadbandBreakfast.com

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2009 – Current measures of broadband comparisons between the United States and the rest of the world – and within the country – have limitations, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office released on Friday.

Under the Broadband Data Improvement Act, passed in October 2008, GAO was asked to conduct a study about broadband metrics and standards, including comparisons of international broadband services.

These limitations including the “lack of comprehensive measures from the government to compare price, actual delivered speeds, and service reliability data from providers,” and information that was gathered through international broadband comparisons that are not comparable across countries.

Based on the information that it received, the GAO said that data collected from the Federal Communication Commission from its semiannual report constituted another setback, as information collected from providers does not include information pertaining to speeds, price, availability and service reliability.

According to the report, Form 477 used by the FCC used to gather their data does not require “broadband providers to report on price or actual delivered speeds.” This effects the comparisons used on other parts of the country, which then affects policy positions or investment decisions.

Even after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration implemented the State Broadband Data and Development grant program under the February 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, such information still suffers from inconsistency.

Grant applications by broadband stimulus applicants doesn’t need to include information pertaining to the speeds. That could present a problem because “each provider may have a different method for measuring speed.”

When comparing broadband internationally, there needs to be a consistency in variables. Yet when data was being collected, what the U.S. collects different data, using different methods, from how other countries gather their data. An example given in the report says the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, reports information relating to broadband per 100 inhabitants, as opposed to broadband per household.

In order to increase the data quality for studies such as these, to help promote a better understanding of the international and a nation-wide comparisons of broadband, the GAO urged the Secretary of Commerce to review the way data is collected under the ARRA, and look for stable variables so that, in the future, the government can gather more accurate and consistent data.

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