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Brian Mefford

Connected Nation and BroadbandCensus.com to Debate in New Orleans

in Broadband Data/Press Releases by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW ORLEANS, October 1, 2009 – Top officials from Connected Nation, BroadbandCensus.com and One Economy will discuss key issues in broadband data and mapping – including controversial questions about public disclosure of carrier information on broadband maps – here on Thursday.

The debate will take place at the annual conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and will feature Phillip Brown, National Policy Director of Connected Nation; Drew Clark, Executive Director of BroadbandCensus.com; and Ken Eisner, Managing Director of One Economy Ventures.

The description for the panel reads as follows:

It has been said that you can’t analyze what you can’t measure. Broadband mapping has the potential to provide policy makers and citizens with information needed to develop effective strategies around broadband deployment and adoption. Mapping projects in a number of states have raised concerns about transparency, conflicts of interest, and the accuracy and usefulness of the information developed. Speakers representing a variety of interests will discuss pros and cons of the nation’s mapping projects and will evaluate the Federal Government’s efforts to date.

BroadbandCensus.com has long urged that broadband mapping be conducted in a public and transparent matter, and that broadband data must also serve the underlying goal of providing enough information to stimulate broadband adoption by consumers.

In particular, BroadbandCensus.com has long urged that data about the carriers that offer broadband service, on a Census block basis, should be publicly identified.

“I look forward to the opportunity to engage with Connected Nation on the key role that public and transparent data must play in developing a national broadband map,” said Clark.

Clark, a well-respected telecom, media and technology journalist who has covered the industry for more than 15 years, founded BroadbandCensus.com as means for consumers to interact with such a growing public and transparent broadband database.

BroadbandCensus.com announced its alliance with NATOA in July 2008, and developed an online system allowing NATOA members to record detailed information about local broadband deployments for the public to view. Such information is vital to a transparent, competitive and universally accessible internet.

Brian Mefford, President and CEO of Connected Nation, had been scheduled to appear on the panel at NATOA, but was replaced by Phillip Brown.

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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NTIA Details Contacts With Legislators, States, Mapping Companies and Others

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2009 – Officials at the agency responsible for crafting the federal government’s broadband stimulus policies held 36 meetings meeting over the past two months – 17 with federal legislators, 11 with private companies and non-profit groups, and eight with state and city officials.

In the two months since the National Telecommunications and Information Administration opened  its doors to these private meetings, the focus of the 36 meetings appears to have been three-fold: explaining and discussing the program with legislators; NTIA-solicited input from geographic companies; and obtaining advice from states with programs for broadband incentives.

The record of the meetings was released by the NTIA, an agency of the Commerce Department, on their web site over the past two weeks. It was updated late last week to include the meetings with federal legislators. http://www.ntia.doc.gov/broadbandgrants/exparte.html

The degree of detail about the content of the meetings varied widely. In some cases, elaborate Power Point presentations were included in the record. In other cases, only brief and cryptic summaries of the points made by the various parties were posted.

In general, the earlier meetings in March included much more detailed information. The descriptions of the meetings in April tended to be more general and lacking in specificity.

The first meeting by NTIA broadband officials was with the Republican staff to the Senate Commerce Committee, on February 24. It was closely followed by the staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the Republican staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

According to the brief summary, aides to all three members of legislative officers were interested in the general contours of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program at NTIA, as well as coordination between the NTIA and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service.

The first non-governmental entity to obtain a meeting with the NTIA staff, according to these ex parte summaries, was Connected Nation, on March 4.

According to the summary on the NTIA web site, NTIA officials “initiated” the meeting with Connected Nation CEO Brian Mefford, and Phillip Brown.

In the meeting, Connected Nation said that mapping “availability and adoption of broadband services” was crucial to meeting the goals of the BTOP program. Mefford and Brown also said that “non-disclosure agreements are important to legally protect confidential and proprietary information.”

Companies in the geographic analysis and spatial mapping field holding meetings with NTIA over the past two months include Apex CoVantage (on March 12 and April 8), CostQuest (on March 11), and Space Data Corp. (on March 20).

Like Connected Nation, CostQuest said that “Non-disclosure agreements would be needed to encourage provider participation” in a system of mapping broadband data a fine level of granularity.

Apex CoVantage, by contrast, highlighted the role of transparency in broadband mapping. According to the summary of its meeting, FCC broadband data “masks unserved areas and is too aggregated to provide the needed level of accuracy.”

Apex CoVantage used maps of Charlotte County, Va., to demonstrate that the finer the level of granularity, the more inadequate FCC data becomes.

Officials with the ConnectArkansas, which is affiliated to the non-profit organization Connected Nation, also met with the NTIA, on April 7, together with five officials from the Federal Communications Commission.

Those same five FCC officials also joined a meeting, one hour later, with Karen Jackson of the Center for Innovative Technology in Virginia. The description of both meetings was generic.

Among state agencies and representatives meeting with the NTIA staff, the first in line was the California Public Utilities Commission, which discussed their early effort at state-wide broadband mapping, on March 18.

Massachusetts Department of Telecom and Cable Commissioner Sharon Gillett met briefly with the NTIA’s Ed Smith on March 23, 2009, immediately prior to the beginning of a public workshop at the Commerce Department at 10 a.m. that day.

In the supplemental material posted on the NTIA website, Gillett released a detailed map with the names of the carriers, and their technology type, offering broadband services within each of the Massachusetts’ townships.

Other companies obtaining meetings with NTIA officials included Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco, both of whom argued against including requirements that only American products be included in projects funded by broad grants.

“Cisco [does] not believe that broadband grants under BTOP constitute a ‘public work’ which would subject them to the ‘Buy America’ requirement,” said Jeffrey Campbell, senior director of global policy for the router manufacturer.

Alcatel-Lucent agreed. “BTOP projects do not fit within ‘public work’ or should be exempt,” said the company’s Michael McMenamin. “In any event the vast majority of stimulus dollars for broadband projects will be devoted to the labor costs of deployment, not ICT equipment.”

Other non-profit groups that had meetings with NTIA include the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and the Minority Media Telecommunications Council.

Legislators See 'Underserved' Definition as First Step for Broadband Stimulus

in Broadband Stimulus/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2009 – Proper oversight of the $7.2 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program can only take place if key terms are defined properly, a panel of agency officials and policy experts told a congressional committee on Thursday.

The broadband stimulus programs can succeed only if the eventual definition of “unserved areas” is “sensible,” said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

Boucher is concerned that areas that have a “smattering” of broadband service might be excluded from the definition of “unserved” areas. Agencies must also exercise care when defining what constitutes an “underserved” area in order to maximize market competition, Boucher said.

“Uunderserved” should also encompass areas with low available speeds, Boucher said.

But Boucher cautioned that the stimulus program should not be confused with a national broadband strategy, which the Federal Communications Commission is tasked with designing. The FCC is scheduled to take up the task at its April 8 meeting.

Such a strategy could include expanding universal service fund support to include broadband, he said, and indicated his subcommittee would continue to be “actively involved in looking at ways to achieve universal broadband deployment.”

Ranking member Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said that focusing first only on unserved areas would prevent “another wasteful government program,” and worried that distributing funds without a national broadband map in place would lead to a “ready, fire, aim” approach that would only encourage waste, fraud and abuse.

Stearns suggested first distributing funds to states that have already begun mapping efforts. “It’s common sense that we should know where to best spend the money before the money is actually spent,” he said.

But full committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., disagreed with Stearns’ “re-characterization” of the stimulus bill’s requirements.

Waxman noted that the committee had rejected an amendment codifying Stearns’ presumption of priorities into law when it considered the bill in February.” I expect that NTIA will not be distracted by these efforts,” Waxman said.

Developing definitions and a national broadband plan is the FCC’s “most important responsibility since implementing the 1996 Telecom Act,” said Scott Deutchman, acting senior legal advisor to acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.

But the most important task in developing the plan will be to make sure broadband is available to all Americans, “whether you are rich or poor, live in a rural or urban area or on tribal lands, have a disability, are a small business, are a senior citizen or a high school student,” Deutchman said.

California Public Utility Commissioner Rachelle Chong agreed that mapping should be a prerequisite for receiving broadband grants. Chong noted that California’s program mandated that carriers provide mapping entities with “granular” data down to the street address level. Public-private partnerships could be a successful vehicle for mapping, but only if conducted through a trusted, neutral third party, Chong said.

Such partnerships can be successful in stimulating the “demand side” of the broadband economy, said One Economy Corporation Vice President Nicol Turner-Lee – but only if they are “intentional” in creating a “culture of use” among low-income communities that have the lowest adoption rates for broadband services in the nation.

“If the allocation of broadband stimulus funding does not make a considerable difference among this demographic, we have failed,” said Turner-Lee.

Also testifying during the hearing were Jonathan Large, Dan River District Supervisor in Ararat, Virginia; Brian Mefford, CEO of Connected Nation; Mark Seifert, senior policy advisor, National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and David Villano, assistant administrator of telecom programs at the Agriculture Department.

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Gates Foundation Grants $7 Million to Connected Nation and American Library Association

in Broadband Data/States by

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected; see below.

WASHINGTON, December 19 – Connected Nation and the American Library Association will receive a $7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in a broadband initiative designed to improve internet connections in public libraries, the foundation said Thursday.

The goal is to ensure that all public libraries within seven states – Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Virginia – have broadband connectivity of at least 1.5 Megabits per second (Mbps). Connected Nation will convene broadband summits within each of these “pilot” states.

The states were chosen because they have large populations with individuals living below the poverty line, said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Gates Foundation.

Despite overwhelming demand for technology services, up to one-third of all public libraries have internet connections too slow to meet the every needs of patrons, according to a recent report compiled by the American Library Association.

In an interview, Nishi said that the 1.5 Mbps speed goal is a minimum, and that the foundation will strive to ensure higher speeds in the seven states. In June, the Federal Communications Commission raised its definition of broadband from internet connections of at least 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) to 768 Kbps, or about half the speed that Nishi described as a “floor.”

“We believe that all people in this country should have access to high speed internet and that public libraries are a key institution in delivering this internet access,” said Nishi.

With the deepening recession, librarians are reporting that online services are in high demand for job-seekers.

With home broadband adoption rates leveling off, and with less workers in jobs and able to access the Internet at the office, the library becomes a crucial “third place” for connecting online, she said.

Among public libraries, 73 percent are the only source of free, public internet access in their communities, according to the ALA report, which was also funded by the Gates Foundation.

Nishi and the American Library Association described the grant’s focus on libraries as a key to subsequently enhancing the quality and availability of broadband within the surrounding communities.

“Public libraries can and should provide access to the ever-expanding universe of knowledge, tools, services and resources available on the Internet,” ALA President Jim Rettig said in a statement. “They also act as catalysts for improving internet services for entire communities.”

Similarly, Nishi said that by allowing for “a broader emphasis in ubiquitous deployment, a public library can expose [patrons to] what broadband can afford. In some cases, they can be a demand center” for individuals who may not have considered subscribing to broadband.

Connected Nation, the Kentucky-based non-profit organization that is funded by Bell and cable companies and by state appropriations, has emphasized the importance of “demand creation” in stimulating broadband adoption in Kentucky and in other states. It also provides maps of broadband availability within several states.

“Libraries are often the best point of internet access for people who otherwise could not afford access,” Brian Mefford, CEO of Connected Nation, said in a statement. State and local leaders must “recognize this important community service and commit to supporting local library efforts to ensure access to quality broadband.”

Under the $6,959,771 Gates foundation grant, $6,107,882 will go to Connected Nation and $851,889 will go to the ALA. Nishi said that 85 percent of the $6.1 million for Connected Nation will fund travel expenses for officials to attend the summits.

ALA’s $850,000 will go toward research and expertise in aiding the library agencies in the seven states to develop implementation strategies for faster library broadband connections.

The goal of the summits and of the implementation strategies is to find ways to financially support faster connections through means besides the Gates Foundation.

Hence the summits are designed to collect librarians within the state, state government officials that oversee the libraries, state and local politicians, and local broadband providers.

“One of the messages we want to impart [in the summits] is the role of broadband access, the information and the opportunities [through broadband], and that it is critical for every community to have this access,” said Nishi.

Nishi also said that more libraries need to take advantage of the e-Rate, which is part of a federal universal service fund subsidizing telecommunications services in schools and libraries.

Also as part of its work in preparing for the $6.9 million grant, the Gates Foundation is conducting a census-style survey of the speeds, prices and providers of internet access to all 16,000 public libraries in the country, Nishi said.

Nishi said that the speeds, prices and names of providers will be publicly released. Although major telecommunications carriers have objected in the past to the public disclosure of the ZIP codes in which they offer broadband, Nishi said that providers do not object to making this information public.

“We think that the providers will find this information helpful in terms of seeing this as demand creation,” she said.

The census-style survey is under contract to the Lieberman Research Worldwide, and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2009, said Nishi.

Correction and Clarification:

January 11, 2009 – A Gates Foundation official called BroadbandCensus.com to say that it is 50 percent, and not 85 percent, of the $6.1 million grant to Connected Nation that will fund travel expenses.

With reference to the question of whether telecommunications providers object to making information about the speeds, prices and names of providers publicly available, the official clarified that the Gates Foundation had not asked telecommunications companies whether they object to making the information public. The foundation is simply conducting its census-style survey of internet access to public libraries and releasing the information to the state library boards, which are then expected to publicly disclose this information.

-Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

Broadband Breakfast Club:

January Meeting: What Will Broadband Do to the Universal Service Fund?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the January meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 8 a.m.

  • Jay Driscoll, Director, Government Affairs, CTIA – The Wireless Association
  • Gregory Rohde, Executive Director, E-Copernicus/E9-1-1 Institute
  • Curt Stamp, President, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance

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