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

WASHINGTON, October 7 – Congress last week passed legislation, the “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” that seeks better information about high-speed internet connections but cuts 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.

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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:

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TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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Broadband Breakfast on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 — A ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

BroadbandNow launches a “consumer confidence” survey.

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Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the September 15, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021, 12 Noon ET — BroadbandNow Presents a ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

As part of its efforts to provide the latest research on the social, economic and political issues contributing to the digital impact and the impact of broadband on everyday life, BroadbandNow is launching a new survey among broadband leaders enthusiasts. Think of this as a “consumer confidence” survey for broadband.

Recently, there have been many changes regarding broadband at the federal, state, local and industry levels. BroadbandNow and Broadband Breakfast aim to launch the survey at a presentation during Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, a mini-conference at the Broadband Community Summit in Houston, Texas, from September 27-30, 2021.

Join us on September 15, 2021, for this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online preview of the survey with John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow, and Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast.

Panelists for the event:

  • John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow
  • John B. Horrigan, Senior Fellow, Benton Institute on Broadband & Society
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • John Busby is the Managing Director of BroadbandNow.com, where millions of consumers find and compare local internet options and independent research is published about the digital divide. Prior to BroadbandNow, John held senior leadership positions at Amazon and Marchex. John holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University.
  • John B. Horrigan, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute on Broadband & Society, with a focus on technology adoption and digital inclusion. Horrigan has served as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. During the Obama Administration, Horrigan was part the leadership team at the Federal Communications Commission for the development of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
  • Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. As a journalist, Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband, and – building off his work with Broadband Census – was appointed Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois under Gov. Pat Quinn. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

BroadbandNow is a data aggregation company helping millions of consumers find and compare local internet options. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers. BroadbandNow relentlessly collects and analyzes internet providers’ coverage and availability to provide the most accurate zip code search for consumers.

See also:

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

March 11, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new “fabric” for mapping broadband service across America will not only help collect more accurate data, but also unify geocoding across the broadband industry, industry experts said during a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar Thursday.

Broadband service providers are not geocoding experts, said Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, and they don’t know where all the people are.

The new fabric dataset is going to be very useful to get a granular look at what is and what is not served and to harmonize geocoding, she said.

AT&T’s Mary Henze agreed. “We’re a broadband provider, we’re not a GIS company,” she said. Unified geocode across the whole field will help a lot to find missing spots in our service area, she said.

The new Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is a major shift from the current Form 477 data that the FCC collects, which has been notoriously inaccurate for years. The effort to improve broadband mapping has been ongoing for years, and in 2019 US Telecom in partnership with CostQuest and other industry partners created the fabric pilot program.

That has been instrumental in lead to the new FCC system, panelists said. It is called a “fabric” dataset because it is made up of other datasets that interlace like fabric, Follansbee explained.

The fabric brings new challenges, especially for mobile providers, said Chris Wieczorek of T-Mobile. With a whole new set of reporting criteria to fill out the fabric, it will lead to confusion for consumers, and lots of work for the new task force, he said.

Henze said that without the fabric, closing the digital divide between those with broadband internet and those without has been impossible.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection expected to help better map rural areas

The new mapping can help in rural areas where the current geolocation for a resident may be a mailbox that is several hundred feet or farther away from the actual house that needs service, Follansbee said.

Rural areas aren’t the only places that will benefit, though. It can also help in dense urban areas where vertical location in a residential building is important to getting a good connection, said Wieczorek.

The fabric will also help from a financial perspective, because of the large amount of funding going around, said Charter Communications’ Christine Sanquist. The improved mapping can help identify where best to spend that funding for federal agencies, providers, and local governments, she said.

There is now more than $10 billion in new federal funding for broadband-related projects, with the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020 and the new $7.6 Emergency Connectivity Fund part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The new FCC task force for implementing the new mapping system was created in February 2021, and is being led by , led by Jean Kiddoo at the FCC. No specific dates have been set yet for getting the system operational.

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