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A Crowdsourced National Broadband Census: The Time is Now!

in Broadband Data/Expert Opinion/FCC/National Broadband Plan by

By Drew Clark, Editor and Executive Director, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2009 - Over at O’Reilly’s Radar, Carl Malamud discusses the need for a crowdsourced national communiations census, or a broadband census.

He writes:

My last tour of duty in DC was Chief Technology Officer at the Center for American Progress. One of the fun things I got to do was figure out what everybody else did, including my fellow Senior Fellows, the folks that generated most of the policy work, many of whom are now occupying senior posts in the new administration.

One of the most fascinating was Mark Lloyd. An experienced Emmy-winning television producer, communications lawyer, and community activist, Mark is the author of a well-regarded book aboutcommunications and democracy and numerous columns. He’s currently at the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights.

The project Mark Lloyd was working on was a National Broadband Map to show our true communications capabilities. And, he wanted to crowd-source the map from community groups, supplementing that with census and other data from several different places to create a big mash-up. This was in 2005, around the same time Adrian Holovaty was thinking about chicagocrime.org.

Here’s my reply on the O’Reilly web site:

Carl, thanks for your comment. One of the things that BroadbandCensus.com has been doing since our launch, in January 2008, is to provide a crowdsourced, public and transparent collection of data about local broadband Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. We call this the Broadband ‘SPARC.’

We also filed comments at the FCC in the National Broadband Strategy, which you can read at http://broadbandcensus.com/2009/06/broadbandcensuscom-urges-public-broadband-map-with-sparc-scores. We use the open-source Network Diagnostic Tool created by Internet2 for our tests.

Mark Lloyd and I have talked quite a bit about the importance of this effort since at least 2006. That’s when I began an effort to make sure that the public had access to basic broadband data — or what we now call the Broadband SPARC — when I headed the Center for Public Integrity’s telecommunications project. You can read more about that effort here: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/02/infrastructure-investment-decisions-need-transparency.ars.

And as regards Baylink’s comments, I’ve reached out to BroadbandReports.com in an effort to find ways in which speed test information (those on BroadbandCensus.com, those by Measurement Lab, those on Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program’s, and those of others like DSLReports/BroadbandReports), could all be mashed together and reused in a great variety of ways. The Berkman Center is also well aware of our efforts.

At BroadbandCensus.com, everything on our site is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, so that the data-sets we’ve accumulated can be publicly redisplayed and redeployed for free by academics, policy-makers and government officials.

Additionally, on our news and events side, BroadbandCensus.com has provided news and information about broadband access, broadband policy and broadband deployment, as well as hosting the monthly Broadband Breakfast Club on the second Tuesday of each month. We publish timely and topical daily news on broadband, from the broadband stimulus package to proposals for a universal broadband fund; from the national broadband plan to wireless broadband offerings, as well as our subscription-based BroadbandCensus.com Weekly Report.

Feel free to contact me at drew@broadbandcensus.com.

Why BroadbandCensus.com Supports the National Broadband Strategy Statement

in Expert Opinion by

Blog Entries

Editor’s Note: This blog entry was originally posted as a response to a post on the Open Infrastructure Alliance listserv, about the National Broadband Strategy effort that Jim Baller, of Baller Herbst Law Group, has been shepherding.

WASHINGTON, December 5 – I founded BroadbandCensus.com in January 2008 after my experience of trying to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain some very basic broadband information: the names of the carriers operating in each ZIP code. We have not yet succeeded in this task.

We don’t pretend that this data is in itself crucial or even important broadband information. Rather, it is a simple building block upon which citizen-users are empowered to build, through crowdsourcing, new layers of public information about speed, price, availability, reliability and competition.

The fight to get data is still important, and it shouldn’t be abandoned. Indeed, the possibility of getting this kind of data is the very reason that I am optimistic about the momentum that Jim Baller has been building behind this national broadband strategy. This is one key reason that BroadbandCensus.com is a proud signatory of the strategy statement.

At the event on Tuesday, I stood up and asked Larry Cohen, head of the Communications Workers of America and its speedmatters.org web site, whether he would be willing to also include carrier-specific information (i.e. whether a particular speed tester is using Comcast, Verizon Communications, or someone else). He said yes. (CWA has been very involved in Jim’s coalition-building.)

In other words, once CWA implements what Cohen said it would – on speedmatters.org or elsewhere – the public would then know not only which areas of the country have the fastest and slowest speeds. It would also know which carriers, in all different parts of the country, have the fastest and slowest speeds. Additionally, as more carriers begin to implement bandwidth tiers and caps, the need for a variety of services to monitor the carriers’ behavior becomes all the more necessary.

There are so many players that could be involved in these efforts. Besides speedmatters.org, which does have an impressive collection of data, there is, of course, DSL Reports. And – dare I mention it – there is Connected Nation. For all the criticism that Connected Nation has been subject to, it is worth noting that they have assembled an impressive amount of location- and infrastructure-specific broadband information. All that needs to happen, now, is for that data to be linked back up to the carriers that provided it — so that citizen-consumers can take the data and make good use of it. The same holds true for data collected by states, like Massachusetts, California, North Carolina and Nebraska. Think of what the users of Google Earth add on top of a simple, physical map – whether that map is generated based upon resources of the federal government, state and local governments, or private sector actors.

Being involved in creating this kind of a public mashup of carrier-, government- and citizen-data is the very purpose of BroadbandCensus.com. And if CWA and others are willing to share and open up their information (for example, all of the content on BroadbandCensus.com is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License), there will be much better results than if any individual data aggregator was acting alone.

Jim Baller has been able to get all the key parties together. And as everyone has acknowledged that there needs to be some kind of a strategy, everyone has also acknowledged that there needs to be some kind of metrics, or ways of measuring true performance toward broadband objectives. I see the broadband mashup that I’ve outlined above as a crucial guardian of carrier accountability.

There will undoubted be many questions about where and how to undertake deployment decisions. Such decisions will not be made by a single actor, e.g. the federal government. They will instead be made by thousands of entities and individuals, including the feds, the state broadband and telco bodies, regional development officials, community broadband activists, owners of homes and apartments “with tails,” and, of course, individual carriers and customers. Many of these decisions – i.e. universal service fund deployment – cannot be made on an economically rational basis without this data.

However this all takes shape, the broadband marketplace will be better served by transparency about what is happening in the market – with speeds, with prices, with granularity measures of availability, with consumer ratings on reliability and quality, and, of course, with as complete information as possible on _who_ those competitors are.

This is why BroadbandCensus.com supports the national broadband strategy effort that Jim Baller has been piecing together, and why we are very encouraged by everyone talking about it together.

Broadband Breakfast Club:

Editor’s Note: Join the next Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, December 9, on how broadband applications – including telemedicine – can harness demand for high-speed internet services. Register at http://broadbandbreakfast.eventbrite.com

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