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Broadband Census of America Act

BroadbandCensus.com Presentation at Federal Communication Commission Broadband Summit

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Press Release

Presentation, ‘Legislative Update: Broadband Data Improvement Act,’by Drew Clark, Executive Director, BroadbandCensus.com

SAN JOSE, November 6 – Below is the Power Point Presentation made by BroadbandCensus.com at the Federal Communications Commission-National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioner’s Joint Summit: Connecting America.

Please note: The bottom of some of the slide are clipped in the presentation below, but all slides are visible by clicking through on the presentation below.

House Defers to Senate Broadband Data Bill; Final Bill Deletes Funding and National Map

in Broadband Data by

WASHINGTON, October 7 – Congress last week passed legislation, the “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” that seeks better information about high-speed internet connections through enhanced data collection by five separate government agencies.

But as passed by the Senate and the House, S. 1492 deleted all authorization of funds – an amount that had totaled $40 million for each of fiscal years 2008 through 2012 in the Senate Commerce Committee version of the legislation.

Although S. 1492 was agreed to by the House, the bill undercut many of the key features of a companion House bill, the “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919.

H.R. 3919 passed the House in November 2007. It would have forced the disclosure of company-by-company broadband data. It also would have created a national broadband map under the aegis of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, with details on broadband coverage by every broadband provider at the nine-digit ZIP code level. Both features are absent in the final bill.

The Senate finally passed S. 1492 on Friday, September 26 – the same day that many state officials and academics gathered in Washington at the “Broadband Census for America Conference” sponsored by BroadbandCensus.com, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program.

Until recently, Sen. Thomas Coburn, R-Okla., had opposed passage of S. 1492 on the grounds that the $40 million annual authorization was an unwarranted expenditure of federal monies.

The House passed a slightly-modified version of S. 1492 on Monday, September 29 – the same day that it initially rejected the $700 billion financial industry bailout package. Because of the changes, the Senate needed to clear the House-passed version. It did so last week, and the bill is currently before President Bush.

Sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the Broadband Data Improvement Act has received wide-spread support across Congress. At a September 16 hearing, Inouye said that the measure “will give us the baseline statistics we need in order to eventually achieve the successful deployment of broadband…to all Americans.”

Some House members expressed disappointment about S. 1492’s failure to require comprehensive mapping of broadband and reporting on commercial providers on the local level.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., agreed with Inouye’s statement on the positive impact better data could have. Through an aide, Dingell said he would have preferred to create a nationwide map of broadband infrastructure and “remains hopeful we can work towards that goal as the legislation is implemented.”

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, expressed similar disappointment. In a statement, Markey said he “wish[ed] the Senate bill contained the more rigorous data collection and disclosure, as well as the mapping provisions that were contained in the House-passed bill.”

During House floor consideration of the bill on Monday, Markey was optimistic that such a comprehensive mapping effort might still be possible, arguing that “the Secretary of Commerce should create a website through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) depicting broadband inventory maps of all the States as outlined in the House-passed bill.”

The Commerce Department is one of several federal agencies that will now be tasked with improving national data on broadband services and utilizing that data to improve policies to enhance and expand the technological infrastructure, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Census Bureau (a nominally independent part of Commerce), the Government Accountability Office, and the Small Business Administration.

The Act also changes the language of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to require the FCC conduct an “annual” – in place of a “regular” – inquiry into broadband deployment and to list of all the 5-digit ZIP codes where broadband is not available in the U.S.

The reach of the Broadband Data Improvement Act could be global: the FCC is also directed to conduct studies on broadband services in 25 other nations and to report on difference and similarities between these nations and the U.S.

Likewise, the Census Bureau will have to expand its studies of America’s technology uses and include questions on computer ownership and broadband vs. dial-up adoption in its ongoing American Community Survey, according to the Act.

Progress on the Broadband Data Improvement Act came amidst heavy criticism of both the federal government’s broadband data collection methods and metrics as well as the United States’ arguably poor stature in broadband connectivity levels when compared to other nations.

The importance of improving the country’s broadband infrastructure was the subject of a recent hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, the same committee responsible for the markup of S. 1492. At the hearing, representatives from an array of consumer groups conveyed to senators the impact broadband has had on American’s lives through innovations like online education, telehealth applications, and increased employment opportunities. Broadband was even responsible for the delivery of one citizens testimony from Alaska, where citizens living on remote native American lands depend on high-speed internet for key access to virtual health care delivered from as far away as Dayton, Ohio.

Inouye concluded the hearing by stating that federal policies should better reflect the importance of broadband to the national communications system.

The following week, another set of experts gathered at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington at the Broadband Census for America Conference to discuss the importance of improving broadband data collection in order to better inform policy.

At the conference, broadband policy makers and economic experts like Professor Kenneth Flamm of the University of Texas discussed the challenge to the development of sound policy posed by the lack of quality data. “We really don’t have a lot of scientific data available on broadband right now,” Flamm said.

Former FCC Commissioner Rachelle Chong, currently a Public Utility Commission in California, presented a keynote address at conference focusing on California’s current efforts to collect granular data on broadband availability in the state. The effort seeks to improve upon the limited and highly criticized data published by the FCC.

On Capitol Hill, S. 1492 does not dictate any major reforms in the FCC methodology, a signal that Congress is largely satisfied with recent self-improvements the Commission said it would make. In June, the FCC released the details of a March order seeking collection of data about broadband availability at the census tract level. The FCC refuses to release the names of the broadband providers that offer service, citing “competitive harm” that would follow from such disclosure.

The FCC also seeks to include of speed tier data to better reflect the quality of service advertised by broadband providers.

The Broadband Data Improvement Act does attempt to improve further on some of the FCC’s metrics through other institutions. On speed and price, for example, S. 1492 calls for GAO to develop methods and metrics to measure the actual price per bit consumers receive and the actual broadband speeds they experience as well, as opposed to the advertised speeds.

While specific funding for these provisions awaits determination by the Appropriations Committee, the act does direct Commerce to establish a grants program that will match funds by state, municipal, or non-profit organizations intended for “initiatives to identify and track the availability and adoption of broadband services within each State.”

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) cited this final provision in particular on Wednesday when Ray Baum of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, and chairman of the NARUC Telecommunications Committee, applauded Congress for acknowledging “the important role States play.” He added: “the information gained as a result of this bill will speed broadband-collection programs and help bring the power of the Internet to as many citizens as possible.”

Broadband Census Resources:

Comments of BroadbandCensus.com in FCC Rulemaking on Broadband Data

in Press Releases by

Regulatory Filing

Editor’s Note: The following is the regulatory filing made by BroadbandCensus.com in the Federal Communications Commission’s inquiry about how to best map out information about local broadband. Footnotes are available in the PDF version of file. (The link is at bottom.)

By Drew Clark, Executive Director, BroadbandCensus.com

COMMENTS OF BROADBANDCENSUS.COM IN RESPONSE TO THE FURTHER NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING

I. INTRODUCTION

BroadbandCensus.com respectfully submits these comments in response to the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Further Notice”)1, released June 12, 2008, in the above-captioned proceeding of the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”). We respond to the invitation for comment on Section IV(B) of the Further Notice.2

BroadbandCensus.com is a new, free web service that allows the public to share and learn information about where individual broadband companies provide service. In taking the Broadband Census, consumers enter their ZIP+4 codes, identify their carriers, rate their services and conduct a free broadband speed test. Doing so enables them to compare their actual internet speeds against what their carriers promise.3 They are also invited to make comments, which are posted on the web site of BroadbandCensus.com, about the service quality of their broadband provider.

BroadbandCensus.com is a consumer-focused service with an aim to better inform the public and policy-makers with information and news about broadband availability, competition, speeds, service and prices. The site is freely offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License, allowing anyone to make non-commercial use of the site, as long as they attribute the contents to BroadbandCensus.com. In doing so, countries, states, counties and cities may republish the information on their own web sites.

BroadbandCensus.com has a keen interest in the issue of broadband data. BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census LLC (“BroadbandCensus.com”), a Limited Liability Company organized the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are independent of all internet providers. BroadbandCensus.com receives no funding from carriers. More information about the organizations providing financial or technical support to BroadbandCensus.com is available in a prominent location on our web site.4

BroadbandCensus.com takes no position on telecommunications policy controversies, such as the issues surrounding network neutrality, or the universal service fund. However, we do firmly believe in the value of transparency, both as a means to oversee the government, and to provide consumers with recourse vis-à-vis their broadband carriers. As with other journalistic organizations, such as the Associated Press (which often seeks to obtain the release of government information under the Freedom of Information Act), we believe that the public is served by the greatest possible disclosure. For this reason, we offer these comments for your consideration.

Following these introductory remarks, our comments are organized as follows: section II briefly considers the significance of the Internet as a means for collaboration and data-sharing, with specific reference to broadband policy; section III responds directly to the Commission’s questions in the Further Notice; section IV discusses the implications of proposed federal legislation upon the Further Notice; followed by a conclusion in section V.

II. THE INTERNET, ‘CROWDSOURCING’ AND TRANSPARENCY

In this section, we briefly consider the significance of broadband data, the importance of transparency, and call attention to a specific instance in which the nation of Ireland has publicly deployed broadband data on a government web site.

Much could and should be written about the way that the Internet enables individuals – friends and strangers – to collaborate seamlessly. Further, of the most important functions of the Internet is to cast sunlight upon the operations of government and other entities. BroadbandCensus.com is an exercise in harnessing the power of “crowdsourcing” – bringing disparate individuals together to engage online in a common purpose. That purpose is to learn and share information about their internet options. As with Wikipedia, BroadbandCensus.com is a natural extension of the ability of individuals to collaborate about the Internet, using the Internet.

Understanding the availability of broadband within a particular ZIP code, census tract or ZIP+4 code is one important purpose for this information-sharing. But there are other vitally important purposes, too: understanding competition in the broadband marketplace, understanding the speeds and service quality of broadband providers, and understanding and comparing internet prices. In the realm of broadband policy, attention is increasingly focusing not only on broadband penetration, but on available speeds, bandwidth caps, and cost per Megabit or Gigabit of data.

Speaking at the Commission’s hearing on “Broadband Network Management Practices” on February 25, 20085, Chairman Kevin Martin stated that for network management “practices to be reasonable, they must be conducted in a transparent way. Consumers need to know” what aspects of their Internet connections will or won’t be affected by such practices, the Chairman said.6 Consumers also need to know about the speeds, services and prices offered by the carriers, the Chairman said.7

We urge you not neglect the importance of broadband competition, broadband speeds and broadband prices as the Commission considers all the issues surrounding the Further Notice.

Also, BroadbandCensus.com commends to the Commission the “Broadband Information” web site of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of the Government of Ireland.8 Although BroadbandCensus.com has no official connection with this site, we urge you to examine it as an example of what another nation is doing in the realm of broadband mapping. “Broadband Information” includes a listing, in Ireland, of all available broadband services, promised download and upload speeds, contention ratios, and monthly subscription fees. The site includes a fully searchable map and includes a web site and e-mail contact for each carrier.9

III. RESPONSES TO THE COMMISSION’S SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

The Commission asks a number of specific questions in the Further Notice. Before responding to those questions, however, BroadbandCensus.com invites the FCC to revise its current policies with respect to the non-disclosure of public broadband information. In particular, we invite the Commission to make data public from the FCC’s existing Form 477. We also invite you to make that data public which will be collected from the new version of the Form 477.10 In light of these recommended disclosures, we address the Commission’s specific questions.

With regard to the existing Form 477, there is a great deal of data encompassed by the form that cannot, by any reasonable stretch of the imagination, be considered competitively sensitive. We urge the Commission to publicly disclose each of the 5-digit ZIP codes in which broadband service providers declare that they offer service. The fact that a broadband company offers service in particular ZIP code is well known to the individual customer of that service. This information is also used in marketing broadband services to individuals through web sites, and through other forms of communications. For many years, the Commission has required the disclosure of the local areas in which broadcasters, cable operators, and telephone carriers offer service. For similar reasons, we also urge the Commission to disclose, for each 5-digit ZIP code in which each broadband service provider declares that they offer service, the technology type or types through which these providers declare that they offer broadband service.11

With regard to the new information that will be required on Form 477 beginning with the data collection beginning on March 200912, the Commission will require broadband service providers to include information about the census tracts in which the offer service, and the technology types deployed within each census tract. The size of an average census tract is not extraordinarily different from the size of the average ZIP code. There are estimated 61,000 census tracts in the United States13, and an estimated 41,000 ZIP codes, with about 10,000 of these non-spatial ZIP codes.14 We urge the Commission to disclose this information, once collected, because there is not a significant difference between the disclosure of such company data within a ZIP code and the disclosure of such company data within a census tract.

For the first time, the Commission will seek to obtain the promised upload and promised download speeds of individual broadband carriers, again by census tract. This information is vital for consumers to be able to compare their speeds against the promised speeds by, for example, taking a speed test.15 As with information about the location of service offered, and the technology type deployed, promised upload and download speeds are public information. As the Commission has required the collection of this information, BroadbandCensus.com invites the Commission to publicly disclose this information, too.

In the Further Notice, the Commission asks a number of specific questions. To summarize and recap these questions:

1.The Commission seeks comment on the adoption of a national broadband mapping program designed to “creat[e] a highly detailed map of broadband availability nationwide.”16
2.The Commission seeks comment on how such a program “can provide useful information to other broadband initiatives undertaken” by other federal agencies, state agencies, and private companies, such as Connected Nation, Inc.17
3.The Commission seeks comment on potential collaboration with the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.18
4.The Commission seeks comment on the Commission’s tentative conclusion to require the “collect[ion of] information that providers use to respond to prospective customers to determine on an address-by-address basis whether service is available.”19
5.The Commission seeks comment on the data formats for the collection of this information.20
6.The Commission seeks comment on whether and how to incorporate data collected on the new Form 477 into this national broadband mapping program.21
7.The Commission seeks comment on the utilization of other sources of data that would “improve the output of the broadband mapping program.22
8.The Commission seeks comment on “how to maintain the confidentiality of broadband service information.”23

With regard to question 1, BroadbandCensus.com is very enthusiastic about the utility of creating a highly detailing map of broadband availability. BroadbandCensus.com has no basis to comment about whether the Commission desires to undertake this task for itself.

With regard to question 2, BroadbandCensus.com believes that the most useful steps that the Commission can undertake to provide information to various federal, state and private broadband initiatives is to publicly provide the information that it currently collects on the existing Form 477, and that it will collected on the revised Form 477. Once this data is made public, it can be redeployed and repurposed for use by a range of public and private organizations, including Connected Nation, Inc., BroadbandCensus.com, and the various state-level task forces that are currently considering, or have considered and implemented, broadband data mapping efforts.

With regard to question 3, BroadbandCensus.com has no expertise on this subject. However, BroadbandCensus.com notes that once this basic broadband information is publicly disclosed, a great variety of federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, will be able to benefit from such information-sharing.

With regard to question 4, BroadbandCensus.com is sensitive to the argument that broadband providers should not be required to provide address-by-address information to the Commission. If, however, the Commission is determined to collect address-by-address information because the Commission feels that a public purpose is served by its collection, BroadbandCensus.com would urge the Commission also make this data publicly available. As with information about the location of broadband service by ZIP code (and by census tract), the technology types deployed within the carriers’ respective service areas and the carriers’ promised upload and download speeds are publicly discoverable on an address-by-address basis by consumers seeking to obtain service. Because of the virtues of crowdsourcing, the information about service areas, technology types and offered speeds that the Commission receives will be far more valuable to individual internet users than it will be to the Commission alone. We therefore urge the public disclosure of this broadband address information.

Question 5 raises considerable technical issues about which BroadbandCensus.com is currently grappling. Publicly available information can be readily shared over the Internet. BroadbandCensus.com aims to work collaboratively with a range of public and private organizations to help develop “best practices” and standards for sharing public information about broadband availability, competition, speeds, prices and quality of service.

To respond to question 6, reference must be made to the pending federal legislation concerning broadband mapping.24 The simple answer is: yes, data collected on the new Form 477 can and should be incorporated into a national broadband mapping program. Again, this can be done most effectively by publicly disclosing the data from the new Form 477. BroadbandCensus.com currently collects data on a ZIP+4 code level.25 There are approximately 30 million ZIP+4 codes, which compares to approximately 8 million census blocks26 and approximately 200,000 census block groups.27 As noted above, there are approximately 61,000 census tracts and 41,000 ZIP codes.28 The ZIP+4 code level becomes the finest and most discrete unit of analysis, and a unit that can be incorporated upward into blocks, block groups, tracts, ZIP codes, cities, counties and states. The “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, calls for public mapping at the ZIP+4 level.29 The “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, uses the census block level.30 Whether or not either passes will affect the Commission’s efforts on the Further Notice.

With regard to question 7, BroadbandCensus.com invites the Commission, should you undertake to create a “highly detailing map of broadband availability,” to make use of the contents of BroadbandCensus.com.31 The Commission is certainly aware of other broadband mapping efforts, and other nation-wide speed test efforts. Should you decide to undertake to create a detailed map, we hope that the Commission will incorporate data from as many different sources as possible.

With regard to question 8, BroadbandCensus.com reiterates that none of the information discussed above is confidential or commercially sensitive, and therefore all of it should be made available to the public.

IV. IMPLICATIONS OF PROPOSED FEDERAL LEGISLATION

As the Commission is undoubtedly aware, “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, passed the House of Representatives on November 14, 2007. Among other functions, this legislation requires a census of broadband service deployment, to be conducted by the Commission; and a broadband inventory, to be created by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency of the Department of Commerce.32 The broadband inventory map requires that, for each area encompassed by a ZIP+4 code,33 “each commercial or public provider of broadband service capability within such area” be identified.34 Additionally, the map is to include “each type of technology used to provide broadband service capability within such area,”35 and “which bandwidth service tiers … are available within such area for each provider of broadband service capability.”36 Individual broadband providers may “opt-out” of the designation of their technology type within the ZIP+4 code, or of the designation of their offered speed tier37, but they may not opt-out of their identification as a provider of broadband service within a particular ZIP+4 code.38

Additionally, the “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, has been introduced in the Senate, and has passed the Senate Commerce Committee. While this bill does not contemplate a federal broadband map, it does require that states receiving federal fund under the bill “create … a geographic inventory map of broadband service”39 through “geographic information system mapping of service availability at the census block level.”40

H.R. 3919 would require public disclosure of information that the Commission has declared that it will collect through the new Form 477 form. This disclosure would take place through the NTIA’s broadband inventory map. Information to be disclosed includes, at a minimum, the names of the broadband providers within each ZIP+4 code. S. 1492 would not require this level of disclosure, although it does contemplate mapping broadband availability by census blocks.

If Congress fails to act, or if Congress enacts S. 1492 but not H.R. 3919, a greater responsibility would fall upon the Commission to make broadband data at the census tract level available to the public. The Commission should do this, and release the names of the broadband providers within each ZIP+4 code, as well as the technology types and speed tiers of each carrier. In the alternative, if H.R. 3919 does not pass and, if the Commission does not agree to publicly disclose the technology types and speed tiers of broadband providers within each census tract, BroadbandCensus.com urges the Commission to adopt the language of H.R. 3919 on your own authority, and disclose technology types and speed tiers subject to an opt-out by broadband providers.

V. CONCLUSION

Because the importance of conducting a national Broadband Census that includes consumer-focused information about broadband competition, broadband speeds and broadband prices, and because this information is not commercially sensitive, the Commission should disclose it and share it with the public.

Respectfully submitted,
BroadbandCensus.com

By: /s/ Drew Clark

Drew Clark
Executive Director
BroadbandCensus.com

Dated: July 17, 2008

Documents and Web Sites Reference in this Regulatory Filing:

CWA Wants Better Broadband Data, As Does Internet for Everyone

in Expert Opinion by

Blog Entries

WASHINGTON, July 17 – Communications Workers of America this past week teamed up with a group of telecommunications companies, cable operators and non-profit groups to push for Congress to pass broadband data legislation.

In a Friday letter and a Monday press release, the groups wrote “to express [their] strong support for Congressional action to promote greater availability and adoption of broadband high-speed Internet services.”

They want “a national policy” to encourage more broadband deployment, and they cite economic statistics about broadband’s potential.

And, as a first step, these companies and CWA want Congress to pass the Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, or the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492.

Curiously, last month another large coalition announced a similar campaign. They call themselves Internet for Everyone.

Led by Google and the non-profit group Free Press, the organization boasts some the Internet’s leading luminaries, including Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig and internet “co-father” Vint Cerf, now at Google.

“Broadband’s potential to unleash innovation, promote free speech and encourage learning makes this technology the key to the future success of the U.S. economy and American democracy,” read the group’s first position paper. “But to unlock broadband’s limitless potential, it must be universally available and affordable.”

The message is the same — but the messengers are different.

Signing on to the CWA missive were Connected Nation, a Bell-, cable-, and state-funded organization that maps the availability of broadband, as well as the big Bells (AT&T, Verizon, Qwest), smaller telcos (Winstream, OPASTCO), cable titans (Charter, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable), and non-profit groups that frequently align themselves with telco priorities, including the Alliance for Public Technology and the Internet Innovation Alliance.

The Internet for Everyone collection is heavy on the Free Press crowd, including media reform reform groups now zealous about broadband, established non-profits (ACLU, Consumers Union, Common Cause, One Economy, Public Citizen, Public Knowledge, Sunlight Foundation), and tech companies with an internet focus (BitTorrent, eBay, Computer and Communications Industry Association and Google).

Of the 30 groups that signed on to the CWA missive, and of the 100 that are listed on Internet for Everyone’s web site, only two groups are on both lists: EDUCAUSE, and the American Library Association.

Welcome to the world of telecom politics.

Both coalitions say want a better internet, or even some kind of a national policy with some sort of a national broadband strategy. Indeed, both groups seem to agree that some kind of concerted action is necessary on broadband.

“There is a growing consensus on the need for broadband, and the need for government involvement to make the next generation of broadband happen,” says Wendy Wigen, government relations officer for EDUCAUSE.

“The industry, together with the CWA, have really come to that conclusion themselves,” said Wigen. But when the two divergent groups look towards developing broadband strategies, “there is still a lot of dissention between the two groups.”

BroadbandCensus.com certainly agrees — with both groups — on the need for better data about broadband.

We see a need for information about where broadband is available, just as does Connected Nation. Consumers also need to know the names of the companies that are that are offering broadband. You can find that on BroadbandCensus.com.

We also see the need for more accurate data about internet speeds, as does the speedmatters.org web site of the Communications Workers of America. Consumers also need to know which carriers offer the fastest and the slowest speeds, and whether they are living up to the speeds that they promise to offer. You can find that on BroadbandCensus.com.

Whether you’re part of the CWA crowd, or the Free Press-Google group, we hope you’ll turn to BroadbandCensus.com as your free, consumer-friendly resource about broadband data.

Blog Entries and Position Papers Referenced in this Article:

Want Better Broadband in America? Take the Broadband Census!

in Expert Opinion by

Commentary

The following commentary appears in the current issue of Opastco Advocate, a monthly newsletter published by the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies. Reprinted by permission.

By Drew Clark, Executive Director, BroadbandCensus.com

Most Americans who have high-speed Internet can’t imagine life without broadband. How could you connect to the Internet of today without it? In today’s world, broadband is as basic as running water and electricity. And yet the U.S. is falling behind globally. As a technology reporter, I’ve been writing about the battles over broadband and the Internet for nearly a decade in Washington. Yet there is one fact about which nearly everyone seems to be in agreement: if America wants better broadband, America needs better broadband data.

That’s why I’ve recently started a new venture to collect this broadband data, and to make this data freely available for all on the Web, at http://BroadbandCensus.com.

The information and news that is available for free at BroadbandCensus.com is more important now than ever before. The FCC has just made important changes to how it will collect data from carriers. The agency may make even more significant changes in the near future. Public and private sector groups of all stripes are demanding, ever more loudly, that government take steps toward a national broadband policy. That cannot be done without solid information about broadband. Finally, many large carriers are beginning to implement plans to meter out bandwidth in tiers and with usage caps. This marketplace development makes the mission of an independent monitoring Website like BroadbandCensus.com even more critical.

BroadbandCensus.com Serves Consumers, Policymakers, and Carriers

BroadbandCensus.com is designed to help three constituencies: Internet consumers, policymakers, and broadband carriers focused on customer satisfaction. In the long term, we believe that the interests of carriers are aligned with those of their customers and their potential customers.

Internet users benefit by being able to measure and understand information about the availability, competition, speeds and prices of broadband within their areas. When an Internet user goes to the BroadbandCensus.com Website, he or she types in a ZIP code. By doing so, the consumer will find out how many broadband providers the FCC says are available. The consumer can compare that number to his or her own sense of the competitive landscape, as well as the names of the carriers published by BroadbandCensus.com.

The site then invites visitors to Take the Broadband Census! This is a short questionnaire, and it is followed by a free Internet speed test. Each consumer that takes the census puts in their ZIP code, or their ZIP+4 code, selects their broadband carrier from a drop-down menu, and rates that company’s performance on a scale of one to five stars.

The consumer then has the opportunity to add their own comments about the carrier. They may then take a bandwidth speed test. Each of these steps adds data into BroadbandCensus.com. That means that the next visitor to the Website will be better informed about the availability, competition, speeds and customer service of their local broadband options. It also produces a free database of consumer data about more than 1,600 broadband carriers in the U.S.

BroadbandCensus.com also aims to aid policymakers crafting sensible broadband policies based on solid research. We have a contract with the Pew Internet and American Life Project to contribute our information and research to their annual broadband report, and we are working with other broadband researchers around the country.

Consider just three hot-button broadband issues: the Universal Service Fund; whether carriers are engaged in blocking or degrading Internet traffic; and ensuring that all sections of the country – rural as well as inner-city – are digitally included in our broadband world. Better data about competition, speeds and prices are necessary to craft each of these policies. This is what we aim to provide, free of charge, to policymakers on the federal, state and local level, as well as to the public at large.

BroadbandCensus.com is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License. That means that the contents of the site are available, for free, for all to view, copy, redistribute and reuse provided that attribution is made to BroadbandCensus.com, and that such use is done for non-commercial purposes. This is more than just legalese. It means that government agencies and university researchers can benefit from our platform showcasing the best and most accurate broadband data publicly available. State, county and regional development agencies, for example, may republish our data through their own Websites so long as they attribute it to BroadbandCensus.com.

Putting Carrier-Level Information Into BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com aims to collect information from the bottom up. This helps to keep the Internet consumer at the center of the broadband experience. But carriers are obviously integral to this process. We seek to build upon the relationships that we have with dozens of carriers. We also want to form new relationships with hundreds more carriers, such as yourselves. Rural carriers and other special providers of broadband are natural candidates to work with BroadbandCensus.com. We want to build constructive ties with all of you.

The data within BroadbandCensus.com is aggregated from at least four sources: (1) “bottom-up” data from consumers; (2) publicly available information about which providers offer broadband service within each ZIP code; (3) FCC data about the number of broadband providers in each ZIP code; and (4) local broadband information collected and published by state and county regulators.

We also seek information about the availability, prices and speeds that are offered by OPASTCO’s member carriers. Only individuals can make service ratings and measure actual Internet speeds, of course. But carriers are far more likely to have the most up-to-date information about the ZIP codes, and the ZIP+4 codes, in which they offer service. Carriers are also better suited to provide pricing data and information about the speed tiers that they offer to their consumers.

Would each of you be willing to provide us with information about the areas that you serve, the speeds at which you offer services, and the prices at which you sell those services?

Some carriers may resist the notion that they should provide information about where they offer service, let alone the prices at which they do so, on a public Website. Doing so, they believe, would simply aid their competitors. This kind of thinking isn’t uncommon in the business world today. But it is at odds with the notion of radical transparency being followed by many of the most successful technology and communications companies.

The April 2007 issue of Wired magazine cast a spotlight on this development. “You can’t hide anything anymore,” said Don Tapscott, co-author of The Naked Corporation, about corporate openness, as well as Wikinomics, in the piece. “Trying to hide something illicit – trying to hide anything, really – is an unwise gamble,” said Clive Thompson, author of the article entitled “The See-Through CEO.” “Transparency is a judo move,” Thompson continued. “Your customers are going to poke around in your business anyway…so why not make it work for you by turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting them to do so?”

BroadbandCensus.com agrees. Consumers are going to find out where you offer service. Indeed, they must know in order to get service! They will also find out whether or not you deliver on your promised speeds, and whether or not other customers out there are satisfied or dissatisfied. The Internet simply provides all of these individuals with the wherewithall – the virtual gathering space, if you will – to come together and talk about you. Transparency about broadband availability, competition, speeds and prices is the raison d’être for BroadbandCensus.com. But it doesn’t benefit anyone to close the doors of communication with you, the telecom carriers.

Take the issue of broadband pricing. Many different broadband service providers offer different bundles and pricing plans for different speeds and service options. This creates a myriad of choices involving voice and video (with many different channel options and prices), as well as additional services, such as wireless data, home security and maintenance services, etc. This complicated patchwork of options is one reason that BroadbandCensus.com has held off, for now, with systematically collecting “bottom up” data about broadband prices. Consumers are the best gauge of customer service – but they may not remember all of the services they take. They also may not accurately report the prices for the packages that they buy.

It would be better to get this pricing and bundle options information directly from carriers. We have built a back-end interface on BroadbandCensus.com that allows carriers who wish to participate the ability to upload information about locations, prices and offered speeds. We are still working on the best way to display prices within a particular ZIP code or ZIP+4 code. We are more than open to your suggestions on this matter.

Participation in the Broadband Census is completely optional. Carriers that choose not to participate are identified, on our Website, as “[Particular carrier] does not provide the Broadband Census with local Internet information.” When carriers do participate, that label does not appear.

Understanding the Speed Test

BroadbandCensus.com was officially launched on Jan. 31, 2008, and we launched the beta version of our speed test on Feb. 21, 2008. For our beta speed test, we use NDT, or the Network Diagnostic Tool, an open-source speed test under active development by the research consortium Internet2. We have assembled thousands of speed tests, census entries and comments from everyday Internet uses – all of which are freely accessible at BroadbandCensus.com. We are well aware of the great diversity of results obtained through our beta speed test. We understand that many variables, including network configuration, Internet congestion, and customer equipment, affect the actual speed test results. We strive to be as transparent as possible about the technology that we are using to conduct our speed tests, and to help publicize the methodology employed by our version of the NDT speed test.

Policy Agenda for a Broadband Census

BroadbandCensus.com builds on the momentum behind federal, state and local efforts to collect more detailed information about broadband. Consider that Rep. Ed Markey, (D-Mass.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, has introduced legislation that would provide the public with better broadband information. Markey’s Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, has passed the House of Representatives and is still before the Senate.

In addition to providing money for state initiatives to map out broadband, the Broadband Census of America Act calls for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create a publicly available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but also “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.”

Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-Ill.) has introduced S. 1190, the “Connect the Nation Act.” Durbin’s bill would authorize $40 million a year, for five years, for state efforts to map out broadband inventory on the census block level. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, (D-Hawaii) has introduced S. 1492, the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which takes a similar approach. The goal, stated in the identical language of both bills, is to “identify and track the availability and adoption of broadband services within each state.” Neither of these bills has cleared the chamber.

Additionally, the broadband data bills have been inspired by a growing movement in the states to map out broadband availability within their territories. This effort began with Connect Kentucky, a non-profit initiative designed to compile statistics about regional broadband deployment. In partnership with the regional Bell operating companies and cable operators, Connect Kentucky identified gaps in coverage and underserved areas. It is now replicating its efforts in Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and South Carolina. Other groups unconnected to Connect Kentucky are engaged in similar mapping efforts, including the California Broadband Task Force and Massachusetts Broadband Initiative.

Now the FCC will be drilling into broadband availability information in greater detail. On June 12, the agency released an order requiring broadband providers to report the number of subscribers they have, not only in each ZIP code (as has been required since 2000), but also in each Census tract.

This is a welcome development. We applaud those who have pushed the FCC to collect more granular data. As soon as the agency collects, and then releases, information about broadband availability within a particular Census tract, we will immediately include this additional information in BroadbandCensus.com. ZIP codes are larger than Census tracts, and Census tracts are larger than ZIP+4 codes. While BroadbandCensus.com currently displays data at the ZIP code level, in the future we will display data at the ZIP+4 code level – and that will also include the Census tract level. Knowing where broadband is and is not available is indeed the first step toward making sure that broadband truly is accessible to all Americans.

But availability alone doesn’t go far enough. The next steps include understanding broadband competition, broadband speeds and broadband prices. On this score, BroadbandCensus.com has criticized the FCC’s order as inadequate to help consumers know and understand their broadband options. Because the agency continues to exclude carrier information from the public data that it releases, Internet consumers are not likely to benefit from the more granular information collection. The FCC appears to acknowledge this limitation. The order included a “further notice” section in which the agency seeks comments on whether, and how, it should conduct information about delivered speeds and prices.

Conclusion

Fleshing out this complete picture – broadband availability, competition, speeds, prices and customer service – is the long-term goal of BroadbandCensus.com. By including the names of carriers, and by allowing consumers to rate their service quality, BroadbandCensus.com will enable Internet users to make true headto- head comparisons. We believe that these types of comparisons are an essential part of understanding connectedness, fostering a competitive Internet, and in building a national broadband strategy for America. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at drew at broadbandcensus.com.

Articles Referenced in this Article:

CWA Blog Claims Credit for FCC Data Order, But Ignores Local Company Data

in Expert Opinion by

Blog Entries

Over at the Communications Workers of America’s blog, Speed Matters, the union claimed credit for the Federal Communications Commission’s recent order requiring broadband companies to provide the FCC with more information, including data about availability by Census tract.

The blog notes:

The CWA Speed Matters campaign can claim another victory – this time at the FCC. As part of our Speed Matters campaign, CWA called on the FCC to increase its definition of “high speed” – a definition that had not changed for nine years — and to improve its broadband data collection.

Well, it is possible that the FCC’s broadband data collection will be improved. But the public is not likely to benefit from any improvements.

The blog post makes no mention of the fact that the FCC will continue to shield the names of the broadband providers that offer service in a particular ZIP code or Census tract. BroadbandCensus.com criticized the FCC for its failure to change this policy. The current policy limits consumers’ and citizens’ ability to benefit from local broadband information.

Also, with regards to speeds, the CWA post appears to misstate what the FCC required.

It is correct that, as part of order issued on June 13 (nearly three months after it was voted on the agency’s five commissioners), the FCC is requiring broadband providers to now tell the agency the speeds at which they offer service, grouped into eight separate speed tiers.

The agency will continue to collect data about services offered at 200 kilobits per second (Kbps). Only the second tier and higher, or services offered at greater than 768 Kbps, will count as “broadband” under the new definition. Here are the speed tiers:

1. 200 Kbps – 768 Kbps
2. 768 Kbps – 1.5 Mbps
3. 1.5 Mbps – 3 Mbps
4. 3 Mbps – 6 Mbps
5. 6 Mbps – 10 Mbps
6. 10 Mbps – 25 Mbps
7. 25 Mbps – 100 Mbps
8. Greater than 100 Mbps

But CWA’s blog goes further, stating that “the FCC did adopt other CWA recommendations – especially to collect data on upstream and downstream speeds.”

The FCC order does not require either the carriers or agency to engage in speed tests about actual broadband performance. It only requires that carriers say what they currently offer. The FCC document has a “further notice” section, in which the agency asks for comments on whether, and how, it should conduct information about “delivered speed[s].”

CWA also touts various pieces of legislation in Congress that would go beyond the FCC order: the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492, introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, introduced by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Unlike AT&T’s Jim Cicconi, who said on June 13 that the company believes the FCC’s order has accomplished what the bills set out to achieve (while insisting that the company has no problem with the bills), CWA pushes these bills because they “would make funds available to states to collect broadband data.”

An important difference between the two bills, however, is that addition to providing money for state initiatives to map out broadband, the Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, also calls for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create a publicly-available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but also “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.”

BroadbandCensus.com seeks to provide the public with information about local broadband availability, competition, speeds and prices. In order to make this information as useful to the public as possible, BroadbandCensus.com believes that the names of the companies that provide broadband – and the speeds and prices at which they actually deliver service – must also be made available as part of any serious effort to map out the state of broadband in America.

Internet Subcommittee Chair Hails Universal Broadband Service, Decries FISA

in Universal Service by

William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 20 – All Americans, whether they be poor, handicapped, or rural, have the right to universal broadband service, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said on Friday. The congressman also blasted the compromise foreign surveillance legislation that passed Congress on Friday.

Since universal broadband penetration would result in better education and health care in America, Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, strongly supports legislation devoting part of the Universal Service Fund (USF) to establishing nationwide broadband.

Due to the enormous possible benefits of broadband for the average American consumer, policymakers should focus on ensuring that urban, rural, and high-cost areas have access to high-speed internet services. Most of the $7 billion USF currently subsidizes telephone service, and not Internet connections, in rural areas.

Markey played a role in creating the E-Rate program (the “E” stands for education) as a portion of the USF in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, providing funds for connecting schools and libraries ot the Internet.

Just as the E-Rate has helped to “transform education,” Markey said that only by educating America’s blue-collar children will the full fruits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other pro-trade initiatives be realized. Markey supported NAFTA in the 1990s.

Markey spoke at the Federal Communications Bar Association Awards lucheon and annual meeting at the Mayflower Hotel.

On the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation that was heading to a House vote, Markey said that the measure would have an adverse impact on privacy and civil liberties, and that he would voted against the bill.

Markey said that the under the bill, The National Security Agency could continue a controversial surveillance program with only limited judicial oversight.

Markey did vote against the bill, but it passed the House 293-129.

The bill’s passage will likely ends lawsuits against telecommunications carriers participated in NSA surveillance.

The FISA legislation enhances the NSA’s ability to conduct surveillance of phone calls and e-mail messages entering and leaving the U.S.

Markey, who represents Lexington, Massachusetts, where American colonials once fought for the ending of forced quartering of British troops without a warrant, said it was his belief that American revolutionaries would not have tolerated such infringements on personal liberty.

Congress failed to embody a “check” to the executive branch when it approved FISA, Markey said.

Markey also touted a bill, introduced on Thursday, providing accessibility to communications for persons with disabilities, as well as legislation he has introduced on Network Neutrality (H.R. 5353), and the House-passed Broadband Census of America Act (H.R. 3919), to “increase broadband data collection and establish mapping of broadband infrastructure nationally.”

Markey added: “I am still working on draft legislation on a national set of consumer protection standards for wireless service, a draft which also includes the protection of the right of local municipalities to offer broadband service and other telecommunications services.”

Markey also touted forthcoming hearings before his subcommittee: a hearing on Tuesday, June 24, on the subject of universal service, which is set to feature George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars movie series; as well as a pending hearing on the privacy implications of so-called “deep packet inspection” technologies by broadband providers.

Documents Referenced in this Article:

FCC Releases Broadband Data Order For Census-Tract Data

in Broadband Data by

WASHINGTON, June 15 – In an effort to increase the data that the Federal Communications Commission has available as it designs broadband policies, on Thursday the FCC ordered broadband providers to provide the agency with more detailed information.

For the past eight years, broadband providers had to provide the FCC with semi-annual information about the number of subscribers that they have in each ZIP code. Now, they will need to provide the number of subscribers in each Census tract, too.

In a last-minute change sought by AT&T and the non-profit group Free Press, the FCC decided to also require broadband carriers to separate out the number of business from residential customers.

Additionally, under a new form created by the broadband data order, carriers must also say how many of their subscribers within each Census tract fit into each of eight separate speed tiers.

The tiers are as follows:

(1) greater than 200 kbps but less than 768 kbps; (2) equal to or greater than 768 kbps but less than 1.5 mbps; (3) equal to or greater than 1.5 mbps but less than 3.0 mbps; (4) equal to or greater than 3.0 mbps but less than 6.0 mbps, (5) equal to or greater than 6.0 mbps but less than 10.0 mbps; (6) equal to or greater than 10.0 mbps but less than 25.0 mbps; (7) equal to or greater than 25.0 mbps but less than 100.0 mbps; and (8) equal to or greater than 100 mbps.

Data about the numbers of subscribers in each ZIP code is kept by the agency and has not been released to the public. Additionally, the FCC does not release the names of which carriers offer broadband service within a particular ZIP code.

The orders released by the FCC on Thursday make no changes to existing rules regarding the confidentiality of this data.

However, the broadband data order does initiate a new proceeding whereby the FCC will consider how it should voluntarily collect additional broadband data, including data about customer Internet speeds. The agency says it is doing this so that it may propose “a national broadband availability mapping program.” It says it wants to consider confidentially rules for such additional data.

The FCC has been under growing pressure for years to collect more comprehensive information about broadband. A variety of public and private initiatives have been launched seeking access to more granular broadband data, including efforts by the California Broadband Task Force, ConnectKentucky, and this publication, BroadbandCensus.com.

Additionally, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed by the Center for Public Integrity, sought the names of broadband providers offering service within each ZIP code. A federal district court judge denied the effort in October 2007.

And at least three pieces of federal legislation seek better data from the FCC and other communications agencies: the “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, introduced by Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the “Connect the Nation Act,” S. 1190, by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Markey’s bill has passed the House of Representatives; neither of the Senate measures has passed the chamber.

The broadband order had been pending nearly three months at the communications agency. It was relased together with a separate order modifying its original one. The FCC voted to enhance the reporting details on March 19, but hadn’t required broadband carriers to separate out the number of business from residential customers.

FCC Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein applauded the change to separate out business and residential reporting.

“Without this fundamental change, the usefulness of the improvements that we made in March would have been severely compromised,” Adelstein said in a Thursday statement released with the revised order. “By now distinguishing between residential and business customers at a more granular level, we will be much better positioned to understand the factors that affect broadband adoption,” he said.

Organizations and Topics Mentioned in this Article:

Editor’s Note:

BroadbandCensus.com has been closely following the data collection issue. We will issue a statement reacting to the FCC’s order later today. Update: Here is the statement.

-Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

The Big Picture on Broadband at the Policy Summit

in Expert Opinion by

Blog Entries

From the Broadband Policy Summit IV blog:

Q&A: Morning Panel, “The Big Picture”

Drew Clark of BroadbandCensus.com asks the panel their opinion about Rep. Markey’s Broadband Census Act.

Jim Cicconi states that AT&T has no problem with the legislation in particular but believes the Commission’s recent reforms largely get the job done anyway.

Ms. Schaefer seconds this point-of-view and encourages the audience to look for the coming FCC order on census-track data collection.

Mr. Wiley invites the audience to discuss their questions for the panel further throughout the Summit.

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One Response to “Q&A: Morning Panel, “The Big Picture””

  1. Drew Clark Says:
    Thanks for mentioning my question. I appreciate that the FCC recent change on broadband data collection will collect more granular data. However, neither the old-style method, nor the new-style method, will provide publicly available information about the _carriers_ that provide the broadband.

    This is important so that consumers have the ability to understand, compare, and take action on their broadband choices.

    The Broadband Census Act of America, H.R. 3919 by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., would address this situation by requiring the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to create a publicly-available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.”

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