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Comments of BroadbandCensus.com in FCC Rulemaking on Broadband Data

Regulatory Filing WASHINGTON, July 18 – Because the importance of conducting a national Broadband Census that includes consumer-focused information about broadband competition, broadband speeds and broadband prices, BroadbandCensus.com this week urged the Federal Communications Commission to disclose broadband information with the public.

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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:

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

FCC

FCC Delays Auction of Citizens Broadband Radio Service Frequences in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic from Coronavirus

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Seal of the Federal Communications Commission

Agency Changes Upcoming Auction 105 Schedule, Postpones Auction 106

Adjustments Made in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2020—The Federal Communications Commission today announced schedule changes for Auction 105 as well as the postponement of Auction 106.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, these changes were deemed necessary in order to protect the health and safety of Commission staff and to allow parties additional time to prepare to
participate in Auctions 105 and 106.

“Many Americans have had to make tough decisions on how they do business in this rapidly changing environment, and the FCC is no different,” said agency Chairman Ajit Pai. “After consulting agency staff within the relevant Bureaus and Offices, we determined that it was in everyone’s best interest to make these changes. But we remain committed to holding the 3.5 GHz auction this summer and look forward to beginning this important mid-band auction in July.”

For Auction 105, involving the auction of Priority Access Licenses for the 3550-3650 MHz band, the short-form application (FCC Form 175) filing window will now open on April 23,
2020 at 12 p.m. EDT and will close on May 7 at 6 p.m. EDT. Upfront payments will be due June 19.

Bidding will begin on July 23. Interested parties should continue to monitor the Auction 105 website at www.fcc.gov/auction/105 for any future announcements regarding the auction schedule and other important auction information. To read the Auction 105 Public Notice, visit https://go.usa.gov/xdhf4.

The FCC is postponing indefinitely Auction 106, an auction of construction permits in the FM broadcast service that was scheduled to begin on April 28. Auction 106 applicants that
submitted upfront payments may obtain a refund of those deposits after submitting a written request. Additional processes are outlined in today’s Public Notice. A revised schedule will
be announced in a future public notice. To read the Auction 106 Public Notice, visit https://go.usa.gov/xdhfZ.

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Press Releases

Tech Freedom and Other Advocacy Groups Push Back Against Growing Pressure to Modify Section 230

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WASHINGTON, July 11, 2019 – Pushing back against a growing group of critics on the right and the left, the pro-free-market pro-free-speech group Tech Freedom on Thursday released a set of seven principles and online resources designed to “guide conversation about amending Section 230.”

As the principles statement declares: “we value the balance between freely exchanging ideas, fostering innovation, and limiting harmful speech. Because this is an exceptionally delicate balance, Section 230 reform poses a substantial risk of failing to address policymakers’ concerns and harming the Internet overall.”

In its current form, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (and part of the 1996 Telecom Act) holds online content creators responsible for what they publish, while protecting third parties that generate this content from liability.

“Section 230 is the law that made today’s Internet possible. Without it, hosting user-generated content would be impossible. Today’s most popular social websites would never have taken off and the Internet would look basically like cable,” said Tech Freedom President Berin Szóka.

“Making Section 230 protections contingent upon approval of government bureaucrats would be a grave mistake. Regulation must evolve as the Internet evolves, but creating new government powers that would be subject to the whims of whichever party occupied the White House would be bad for all Americans,” said Kevin Glass, vice president of communications at National Taxpayers Union.

The statement also included expressions of support from Prof. Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University School of Law, Sharon Bradford Franklin, director of Surveillance & Cybersecurity Policy, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Emma Llanso, director of the Free Expression Project, Center for Democracy & Technology, Bartlett Cleland, president of the Innovation Economy Alliance, and others.

Some of Tech Freedom’s resources on free speech and Section 230 on its website, including:

  • An op-ed “Some conservatives need a First Amendment refresher”
  • A letter to AG Session “DOJ Inquiry re Tech Companies Bias is Misguided”
  • A blogpost “Reality Check for Trump and Republicans Crying ‘Bias’”!
  • Tech Freedom President Berin Szóka’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the filtering practices of social media platforms
  • A statement on the passage of SESTA
  • A statement on the takedown of Backpage and its implications for Section 230 and recent sex trafficking legislation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #226: The Fairness Doctrine: Next Generation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #214: Information Intermediaries in a Nutshell

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Announces $169 Million in Rural Broadband Funding

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2019 – The Federal Communications Commission on Monday authorized $166.8 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 60,850 unserved rural homes and businesses in 22 states. Providers will begin receiving funding this month. A map of the winning bids is available here.

This funding represents the second wave of support from last year’s successful Connect America Fund Phase II auction. The FCC authorized the first wave of funding in May, providing $111.6 million in funding over the next decade to expand service to 37,148 unserved homes and businesses in 12 states.

To date, the first two rounds of authorizations are providing $278.4 million over the next decade to expand service to 97,998 new locations.  Over the coming months, the FCC will be authorizing additional funding as it approves the final applications of the winning bidders from the auction.

“I’m pleased to announce that the second round of funding starts now for buildout of high-speed Internet service to 60,850 rural homes and businesses, which will bring them to the right side of the digital divide and give them access to the 21st-century opportunities that broadband offers,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Providers will be deploying gigabit-speed connections to the majority of locations for which funding is being authorized today, while nearly 8,000 homes and small businesses on Tribal lands will be getting fixed broadband service for the first time,” he said.

Providers must build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses in the areas won in a state within three years.  Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year.

The Connect America Fund Phase II auction is part of a broader effort by the FCC to close the digital divide in rural America.

In addition to the funding that will be made available through this auction, the Commission recently provided 186 companies in 43 states $65.7 million in additional annual funding to upgrade broadband speeds in rural communities, and offered incentives for over 500 rural carriers to provide faster broadband to over 1 million rural homes and businesses.

Pai also announced his intention to create the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which will provide $20.4 billion over the next decade to connect approximately four million rural homes and businesses to high-speed broadband, representing the FCC’s single biggest step yet to close the digital divide.

(Photo by Jim Bradley used with permission.)

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