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Scott Wallste

‘Broadband Census for America’ United Scholars and State Officials

in Broadband Data/Expert Opinion by

WASHINGTON – September 29, 2009 – From the beginning, BroadbandCensus.com has aimed at providing academics, consumers, government officials and industry with the high-quality data needed about the state of broadband throughout the country.

We believe in public and transparent broadband data. Without public and transparent broadband data, each of these constituents are lacking in what they need.

It is heartening that the highest levels of the Obama administration see and espouse the virtues of transparency and of a data-driven approach to broadband policy. Again today, it came clear that the FCC now seeks to do that which BroadbandCensus.com has been doing since February 2008 – comparing actual speeds with advertised speeds – on an even more finely grained basis.

Now comes the hard part: translating the rhetoric and positive feelings about public and open broadband data into concrete decisions that will drive better-quality broadband data.

Last week I began this five-part series during One Web Week. I focused on the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain broadband data in 2006, and on the founding of BroadbandCensus.com in the fall of 2007.

Much has happened on broadband data in the past week: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced a new Network Neutrality principle embodying “transparency” in broadband data. The U.S. Broadband Coalition released its report calling for a National  Broadband Data Warehouse. Over the weekend, at the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, one key topics of discussion was the centrality of public and transparent broadband data

Today, I’d like to highlight BroadbandCensus.com’s role in helping the build the emerging consensus behind broadband data disclosure. I’ll speak particularly about our major conference, “Broadband Census for America,” one year ago, on September 26, 2008. I’ll also speak about the work we’ve done on covering broadband policy and deployment through our reporting, and in the comments that we’ve filed at the FCC in support of public and transparent broadband data.

‘Broadband Census for America’ Conference

BroadbandCensus.com  began with some modest seed funding from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and from the Benton Foundation. We’ve also been blessed by wonderful collaborators of technical and outreach matters: Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program, Internet2, the Network Policy Council of EDUCAUSE, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, and others.

Many of these organizations believe, with us, that disclosure – including disclosure of carriers offering broadband service within a particular geography – is necessary in order to understand the true state of broadband availability throughout the country.

On August 7, 2008, BroadbandCensus.com and our academic partners, including Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program, announced our conference, “Broadband Census for America.” We sought to assemble state, local and federal officials engaged in gathering and mapping information about broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition. Academic researchers lent their perspective on the importance of universal broadband data. Among the noteworthy individuals to attend that gathering included James Baller, of the Baller Herbst Law Group, who went on to lead the U.S. Broadband Coalition. Susan Crawford, then a University of Michigan Law Professor and now a White house official on science and technology policy.

The keynotes for the event included Commissioner Rachelle Chong, of the California Public Utilities Commission, and Eamonn Confrey, first secretary of Information and Communications Policy of the Embassy of Ireland. Confrey spoke about the Irish experience in public broadband mapping. The full agenda for the program is available at http://broadbandcensus.com/conference. By friend and colleague Drew Bennett, who served as a special correspondent and special assistant at BroadbandCensus.com during the last half of 2008, was instrumental to making the conference a success.

The program included a panel on “Does America Need a Broadband Census”, with a wide diversity of speakers, including Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, Debbie Goldman of the Communications Workers of America, Mark McElroy, chief operating officer of Connected Nation, and myself. The second panel, on “How Should America Conduct a Broadband Census,” including Jeffrey Campbell of Cisco Systems, William Lehr of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jane Smith Patterson of the North Carolina e-NC Authority, and others.

The program committee for the event included Professors Kenneth Flamm of University of Texas, John Peha of CMU (and current chief technologist at the FCC), Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation,Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute, and others. Full details are available at http://broadbandcensus.com/conference

Reporting on Broadband Policy in Washington and the States

In addition to our Broadband Census for America Conference, BroadbandCensus.com launched its reporting – in Washington and in the states, beginning in May 2008. We’ve subsequently posted more than 450 news stories, blog entries, press releases and commentary on broadband.

Today, on the news side of our operations, most of our coverage focuses on the broadband stimulus, the national broadband plan, and wireless broadband. We’ve also had a special eye toward the battles over broadband data, and the state struggles over the deployment of broadband data. That’s what we began in the summer of 2008: a series of state-by-state articles profiling the broadband policies, broadband build-out and broadband data in each of the United States and its territories. The complete list is available at http://broadbandcensus.com/broadband-census-in-the-states.

As we have strengthened our knowledge of and ties to individual states, we began to tap into a whole new sources of broadband information for our data operations. For example, because of the greater detail available from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we’ve been able to identify each of the carriers offering service at the ZIP-code level in that state.

Broadband Census.com has also weighed into the deliberations of the FCC on the issue of obtaining better broadband data. Both in July 2008, at http://broadbandcensus.com/2008/07/comments-of-broadbandcensuscom-in-fcc-rulemaking-on-broadband-data/, and in June 2009, when we urged a “Public Broadband Map with SPARC Scores” – for the Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition of broadband connectivity, at http://broadbandcensus.com/2009/06/broadbandcensuscom-urges-public-broadband-map-with-sparc-scores/. In the latter filing, BroadbandCensus.com reiterated its view that the public should have access to basic broadband SPARC information. It also highlighting the existence of tangible ways in which the federal government could, even in the absence of cooperation from the broadband carriers, could still obtain the all-important Census-block-by Census block data.

The Series:

  • Part 1: The debate begins with the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 2006.
  • Part 2, on One Web Day: The founding of BroadbandCensus.com in the fall of 2007.
  • Part 3: The Broadband Census for America Conference in September 2008, and our work with the academic community to foster public and transparent broadband data-collection efforts.
  • Part 4: BroadbandCensus.com’s involvement with the National Broadband Plan in 2009.
  • The Final Part: The role BroadbandCensus.com and broadband users have to play in the creation of a robust and reliable National Broadband Data Warehouse.

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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