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Want Better Broadband in America? Take the Broadband Census!

Commentary WASHINGTON, July 15 – 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.

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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:

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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Dae-Keun Cho: Demystifying Interconnection and Cost Recovery in South Korea

South Korean courts have rejected attempts to mix net neutrality arguments into payment disputes.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Advisor in Dae-Keun Cho, a member of the telecom, media and technology practice team at Lee & Ko.

South Korea is recognized as a leading broadband nation for network access, use and skills by the International Telecommunications Union and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

South Korea exports content and produces platforms which compete with leading tech platforms from the US and China. Yet few know and understand the important elements of South Korean broadband policy, particularly its unique interconnection and cost recovery regime.

For example, most Western observers mischaracterize the relationship between broadband providers and content providers as a termination regime. There is no such concept in the South Korean broadband market. Content providers which want to connect to a broadband network pay an “access fee” like any other user.

International policy observers are paying attention to the IP interconnection system of IP powerhouse Korea and the lawsuit between SK Broadband (SKB) and Netflix. There are two important subjects. The first is the history and major regulations relating to internet protocol interconnection in South Korea. Regulating IP interconnection between internet service providers is considered a rare case overseas, and I explain why the Korean government adopted such a policy and how the policy has been developed and what it has accomplished.

The second subject is the issues over network usage fees between ISPs and content providers and the pros and cons. The author discusses issues that came to the surface during the legal proceedings between SKB and Netflix in the form of questions and answers. The following issues were identified during the process.

First, what Korean ISPs demand from global big tech companies is an access fee, not a termination fee. The termination fee does not exist in the broadband market, only in the market between ISPs.

In South Korea, content providers only pay for access, not termination

For example, Netflix’s Open Connect Appliance is a content delivery network. To deliver its content to end users in Korea, Netflix must purchase connectivity from a Korean ISP. The dispute arises because Netflix refuses to pay this connectivity fee. Charging CPs in the sending party network pay method, as discussed in Europe, suggests that the CPs already paid access fees to the originating ISPs and should thus pay the termination fee for their traffic delivery to the terminating ISPs. However in Korea, it is only access fees that CPs (also CDNs) pay ISPs.

In South Korea, IP interconnection between content providers and internet service providers is subject to negotiation

Second, although the IP interconnection between Korean ISPs is included in regulations, transactions between CPs and ISPs are still subject to negotiation. In Korea, a CP (including CDN) is a purchaser which pays a fee to a telecommunications service provider called an ISP and purchases a public internet network connection service, because the CP’s legal status is a “user” under the Telecommunications Business Act. Currently, a CP negotiates with an ISP and signs a contract setting out connection conditions and rates.

Access fees do not violate net neutrality

South Korean courts have rejected attempts to mix net neutrality arguments into payment disputes. The principle of net neutrality applies between the ISP and the consumer, e.g. the practice of blocking, throttling and paid prioritization (fast lane).

In South Korea, ISPs do not prioritize a specific CP’s traffic over other CP’s because they receive fees from the specific CP. To comply with the net neutrality principle, all ISPs in South Korea act on a first-in, first-out basis. That is, the ISP does not perform traffic management for specific CP traffic for various reasons (such as competition, money etc.). The Korean court did not accept the Netflix’s argument about net neutrality because SKB did not engage in traffic management.

There is no violation of net neutrality in the transaction between Netflix and SKB. There is no action by SKB to block or throttle the CP’s traffic (in this case, Netflix). In addition, SKB does not undertake any traffic management action to deliver the traffic of Netflix to the end user faster than other CPs in exchange for an additional fee from Netflix.

Therefore, the access fee that Korean ISPs request from CPs does not create a net neutrality problem.

Why the Korean model is not double billing

Korean law allows for access to broadband networks for all parties provided an access fee is paid. Foreign content providers incorrectly describe this as a double payment. That would mean that an end user is paying for the access of another party. There is no such notion. Each party pays for the requisite connectivity of the individual connection, nothing more. Each user pays for its own purpose, whether it is a human subscriber, a CP, or a CDN. No one user pays for the connectivity of another.

Dae-Keun Cho, PhD is is a member of the Telecom, Media and Technology practice team at Lee & Ko. He is a regulatory policy expert with more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications and ICT regulatory policies who also advises clients on online platform regulation policies, telecommunications competition policies, ICT user protection policies, and personal information protection. He earned a Ph.D. in Public Administration from the Graduate School of Public Administration in Seoul National University. This piece is reprinted with permission.

Request the FREE 58 page English language summary of Dr. Dae-Keun Cho’s book Nothing Is Free: An In-depth report to understand network usage disputes with Google and Netflix. Additionally see Strand Consult’s library of reports and research notes on the South Korea.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Luke Lintz: The Dark Side of Banning TikTok on College Campuses

Campus TikTok bans could have negative consequences for students.

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The author of this expert opinion is Luke Lintz, co-owner of HighKey Enterprises LLC

In recent months, there have been growing concerns about the security of data shared on the popular social media app TikTok. As a result, a number of colleges and universities have decided to ban the app from their campuses.

While these bans may have been implemented with the intention of protecting students’ data, they could also have a number of negative consequences.

Banning TikTok on college campuses could also have a negative impact on the inter-accessibility of the student body. Many students use the app to connect with others who share their interests or come from similar backgrounds. For example, international students may use the app to connect with other students from their home countries, or students from underrepresented groups may use the app to connect with others who share similar experiences.

By denying them access to TikTok, colleges may be inadvertently limiting their students’ ability to form diverse and supportive communities. This can have a detrimental effect on the student experience, as students may feel isolated and disconnected from their peers. Additionally, it can also have a negative impact on the wider college community, as the ban may make it more difficult for students from different backgrounds to come together and collaborate.

Furthermore, by banning TikTok, colleges may also be missing out on the opportunity to promote diverse events on their campuses. The app is often used by students to share information about events, clubs and other activities that promote diversity and inclusivity. Without this platform, it may be more difficult for students to learn about these initiatives and for organizations to reach a wide audience.

Lastly, it’s important to note that banning TikTok on college campuses could also have a negative impact on the ability of college administrators to communicate with students. Many colleges and universities have started to use TikTok as a way to connect with students and share important information and updates. The popularity of TikTok makes it the perfect app for students to use to reach large, campus-wide audiences.

TikTok also offers a unique way for college administrators to connect with students in a more informal and engaging way. TikTok allows administrators to create videos that are fun, creative and relatable, which can help to build trust and to heighten interaction with students. Without this platform, it may be more difficult for administrators to establish this type of connection with students.

Banning TikTok from college campuses could have a number of negative consequences for students, including limiting their ability to form diverse and supportive communities, missing out on future opportunities and staying informed about what’s happening on campus. College administrators should consider the potential consequences before making a decision about banning TikTok from their campuses.

Luke Lintz is a successful businessman, entrepreneur and social media personality. Today, he is the co-owner of HighKey Enterprises LLC, which aims to revolutionize social media marketing. HighKey Enterprises is a highly rated company that has molded its global reputation by servicing high-profile clients that range from A-listers in the entertainment industry to the most successful one percent across the globe. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Jessica Dine: Broadband Networks Are Doing Well, Time to Shift to Adoption Gap

There is a perennial policy debate over why the digital divide exists and what to do about it.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Jessica Dine, a research assistant for broadband policy at the ITIF

It turns out there are two digital divides in America. The first one is the familiar divide between those who have Internet subscriptions and those who don’t. Everyone agrees this is a persistent concern, with about 10 percent of the public lacking subscriptions at last count. But then we come to the second divide: There is a perennial policy debate over why the digital divide exists and what to do about it.

This second digital divide is once again on full display around the latest edition of the biennial Communications Marketplace Report from the Federal Communications Commission. Those who think that broadband should fundamentally be in the hands of the government will no doubt claim it shows America’s private-sector broadband system is a failure; we are a backward nation with inadequate service offerings that are too expensive for consumers and too profitable for providers. The solution to this, advocates say, is to weaken corporate providers and strengthen non-corporate alternatives, including government-run networks.

But the empirical evidence belies their claims. An evenhanded look at broadband data show that U.S. broadband infrastructure is not the problem; it’s a lack of adoption that’s causing the digital divide to persist.

Comprehensive data reveal that almost everyone in the United States is passed by fixed broadband matching the FCC’s 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload speed requirement. And the expansive coverage doesn’t end there — 94 percent of people are passed by networks at speeds of 100/10, and the majority of Americans have multiple providers at broadband speeds or higher. 4G wireless coverage is almost everywhere; 5G, still in its early stages, already covers the majority of the U.S. population at 93 percent and reaches competitively high speeds for most of the country. The first iteration of the long-awaited National Broadband Map confirms that deployment is strong. Modern broadband deployment in the United States outpaces coverage in the European Union and is competitive at the international level. And with the use of fixed-wireless and low-earth-orbit satellites continuing to grow, it’s only getting better.

As for prices, U.S. broadband has been shown to be relatively affordable. The ITU finds U.S. fixed broadband prices are just one percent of an average person’s income, proportionately lower than the prices charged in Japan and South Korea. While U.S. mobile prices are relatively higher in the rankings, they’re still significantly lower than one percent of the average income per person. Moreover, Americans are paying for high-speed, high-quality networks, as evidenced by the Ookla’s latest Speedtest Global Index, which put U.S. fixed network speeds in 6th place globally, above even digital frontrunners like South Korea and Denmark. By October 2022, U.S. fixed median download and upload speeds were each roughly seven times the FCC broadband benchmark.

Time to focus on what’s causing the digital divide to persist: Broadband adoption

But even though broadband deployment is already strong, the government has packaged billions of dollars for more to take place. It’s time to stop throwing money at deployment. It’s time to focus on what’s really causing the digital divide to persist, and that’s broadband adoption.

It’s one thing to have access to broadband service but another to “adopt” — to sign up for and purchase — that service. The United States has room for improvement when it comes to adoption. Ninety percent of households subscribe to some form of Internet connection — for context, that’s similar to broadband adoption in 10 EU countries according to Eurostat, and it’s nine percentage points behind the leader. Though U.S. adoption rates are not appallingly low, they still lag behind the country’s performance in deployment. In other words, a substantial percentage of Americans, given the opportunity to connect to the Internet, simply chooses not to.

While a simplistic policy solution would throw money at the problem to lower prices, that likely wouldn’t make a significant dent in the adoption rate. The U.S. Commerce Department’s Internet Use Survey finds, instead, that the main barrier to connectivity is a lack of interest, with 58 percent of respondents stating so. Meanwhile, price comes in distant second, with only 18 percent of respondents putting it down as their answer.

No matter how much money and effort policy makers put into closing the digital divide, they will never close it if they fail to target the true root cause. Pouring money into deployment under the misimpression that U.S. networks themselves are lacking or designing policies to regulate allegedly high U.S. prices and ramp up slow speeds — these are tactics that take scarce funds away from the more pressing challenge of adoption.

Jessica Dine is a research assistant for broadband policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. She has conducted research and written on closing the digital divide, the state of U.S. broadband, and how 5G can play a role in reducing environmental harm. She holds a B.A. in economics and philosophy from Grinnell College. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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