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Broadband's Impact

BroadbandCensus.com, One Web Day, and the Quest for Broadband Transparency

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2009 – One year ago, BroadbandCensus.com joined in support of One Web Day. Both for BroadbandCensus.com and for broadband policy and internet technology, a lot has changed in the past year. We launched BroadbandCensus.com in January 2008 with the simple and straightforward goal of making basic broadband information – information about Broadband Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition – public and freely available to users of broadband services. Many wondered why this was necessary. In the lead-up to our “Broadband Census for America Conference,” in September 2008, we were still highlighting the importance of broadband and of solid broadband data in the economy and in society.

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WASHINGTON, August 25, 2009 – One year ago, BroadbandCensus.com joined in support of One Web Day. We are very happy to do so again this year, in 2009.

Both for BroadbandCensus.com and for broadband policy and internet technology, a lot has changed in the past year. We lauched BroadbandCensus.com in January 2008 with the simple and straitforward goal of making basic broadband information — information about Broadband Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition — public and freely available to users of broadband services. Many wondered why this was necessary. In the lead-up to our “Broadband Census for America Conference,” in September 2008, we were still highlighting the importance of broadband and of solid broadband data in the economy and in society.

With the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009, much of that focus seems very old. Almost overnight, sometime between mid-November and mid-December 2008, everyone seemed to agree that broadband, and broadband data in particular, was essential. BroadbandCensus.com gain a new lease on life. It was enough just to keep up with the breakneck pace of news, analysis, regulation and broadband stimulus deadlines.

BroadbandCensus.com has been there to guide many through the process. And we have launched a number of new activities that have helped make BroadbandCensus.com one key hub of debate about broadband. In particular, in October 2008 we launched the Broadband Breakfast Club, a monthly on-the-record discussion group. See http://broadbandcensus.com/2009/01/webcasts-of-broadband-breakfast-club-now-available-online/. Although the next meeting is on Tuesday, September 15, the club generally meets on the second Tuesday of each month at Clyde’s of Gallery Place, here in Washington. We’ve had a very impressive lineup at these events, which is now entering new phase with a series, Setting the Table for a National Broadband Plan, that will run from from September 15, 2009, to February 9, 2010.

Looking Backward at One Web Day 2008

In my post last One Web Day, I wrote about the importance of broadband, and about how I ventured into the broadband policy arena from my perch as a daily technology journalist. I also described some of the background for the Take the Broadband Census questionnaire that we have been using to collect information about broadband users’ coverage, speeds, and satisfaction:

The momentum that you have helped to create behind BroadbandCensus.com has put us at the center of the debate about internet data. We are building from this marvelous opportunity as we seek an open and public broadband census. On Monday, September 22, One Web Day will help draw further attention to these efforts. We aim to continue the effort throughout the week until Friday, September 26 and beyond.

Earlier this month we announced Broadband Census for America, a conference that will be held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC, on September 26, [2008,] from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. More details about the conference, the program committee and pricing is available here.

“Broadband Census for America” will be sponsored by BroadbandCensus.com, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert S. Strauss Center and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors program. A member of the Embassy of Ireland has confirmed his participation as a keynote speaker. He will inform an American audience of academics, state officials and telecom policy advocates about how the Irish have done their broadband census. Hint: see http://broadband.gov.ie. We urge you to consider attending.

I hope you are wondering what you can do to help this effort. If you are, we’ve got three requests for you on our Get Involved page:

  • Take the Broadband Census and Speed Test
  • Grab a Button for Your Blog
  • Join one of BroadbandCensus.com’s Committees

Also, if you would like to blog about broadband, and about broadband data, on BroadbandCensus.com, please feel free to drop me an e-mail: drew at broadbandcensus.com. We’d be more than happy to include bloggers for BroadbandCensus.com!

We look forward to working with all of your in the run-up to One Web Week, and helping all of us to better understand the true state of broadband competition in our communities, our states, our country and our world.

Evolving Role for BroadbandCensus.com, in News and Data

Now that everyone agrees that solid broadband data truly is essential to crafting a national broadband policy, what do we all do about that?

In the speech that Ben Scott of Free Press has given around Washington about broadband policy, he describes broadband as a “motherhood and apple pie” sort of issue. Everyone loves broadband, everyone wants better broadband, and everyone seeks to boost broadband availability more widely. But the result is a drama without the main actors, or without conflict.

We know that there are conflicts, of course. There are big ones just beneath the surface of the broadband policy debate. None is starker that the divide between the broadband providers and the broadband users.

BroadbandCensus.com has no particular brief for or against carriers. Rather, for us, the key role lurking behind the scenes is the centrality of transparency and openness: We’ve always believed that “A National Broadband Plan Needs a National Broadband Mashup,” and we discussed this in the June 8, 2009, filing that we made at the Federal Communications Commission: http://broadbandcensus.com/2009/06/broadbandcensuscom-urges-public-broadband-map-with-sparc-scores.

But while BroadbandCensus.com believes that the cause of better broadband data will be served by transparency, we also serve the broadband debate more generally through our news products, and through our Broadband Breakfast Club. As the Commerce Department’s NTIA and Agriculture Department’s RUS unveiling of the broadband stimulus package, we also unveiled the BroadbandCensus.com Weekly Report. It is a subscription-based product that summarizes the essential news about broadband deployment and policy. We’ve also continued to increase the quantity and quality of our free coverage at http://broadbandcensus.com.

In July 2009, to help clarify both the news- and data-oriented missions of the company, BroadbandCensus.com created two subsidiares: Broadband Census News LLC, which will continue to offer the Broadband Breakfast Club, our free daily reporting at BroadbandCensus.com, and the BroadbandCensus.com Weekly Report; and Broadband Census Data LLC.

On our data side, we’ll continue to use “crowdsourcing” to allow internet users to share information about their internet experiences. In addition, we’ve done Census block-level analysis of carrier data in a variety of states, including South Carolina. Our Broadband Census Data LLC subsidiary offers services – including the independent verification of broadband data – to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. In fact, we’ve just finished a comprehensive broadband map of Richland County, South Carolina, which we look forward to demonstrating this map in the coming days.

The Vision and Purpose of One Web Day

BroadbandCensus.com continues to believe that broadband has the ability to unite and enhance lives for the better. But to do so, the power of the Internet must be harnessed to help improve our knowledge about the Internet.

The advantage of the consumer-focused approach to collecting and publishing broadband data is that it allows the consumer information from a broadband census to be incorporated into a publicly available repository of information – into which carrier information may also be added. Such an interactive map generated by publicly-available data would be layered in all of its dimensions: Speed (including broadband technology, like DSL, cable, wireless), Price, Availability, Reliability, Competition (including individual carriers). This is the kind of consumer-friendly broadband map that is necessary for multiple constituencies: for citizens, for broadband and users and for national and local policy-makers.

We wish you a very happy One Web Day, and encourage you to remember to Take the Broadband Census as you prepare for it!

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark is a nationally respected U.S. telecommunications attorney. An early advocate of better broadband, better lives, he founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for better broadband data in 2008. That effort became the Broadband Breakfast media community. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over news coverage focused on digital infrastructure investment, broadband’s impact, and Big Tech. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Clark served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way. He also helps fixed wireless providers obtain spectrum licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. 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.

Broadband's Impact

House Bill to Make Broadband Grants Non-Taxable Introduced

Sen. Mark Warner said last month he is working to pass a companion bill by year’s end.

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Photo of Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn.

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2022 – Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Ca., on Wednesday introduced the Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, the companion of a Senate bill of the same name, which would make non-taxable broadband funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act.

The bill’s supporters say it will increase the impact of Washington’s broadband-funding initiatives, the largest of which is the IIJA’s $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. The IIJA allocated a total of $65 billion toward broadband-related projects.

Kelly said the proposal “ensures federal grant dollars, especially those made available to local governments through pandemic relief funding, will give constituents the best return on their investment.”

“This legislation allows for existing grant funding to be spent as effectively as possible,” Kelly added.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sponsored Senate’s version of the bill in September and said last month he is working to push it through by year’s end.

“Representative Panetta’s and Kelly’s bill to eliminate the counter-productive tax on broadband grants is right on the money,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of trade group US Telecom. “Closing the digital divide in America – especially in our hardest-to-reach rural communities – will require every cent of the $65 billion Congress has dedicated for that critical purpose.”

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband is Affordable for Middle Class, NCTA Claims

According to analysis, the middle class spends on average $69 per month on internet service.

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Photo of Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at NCTA

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2022 – Even as policymakers push initiatives to make broadband less expensive, primarily for low-income Americans, broadband is already generally affordable for the middle class, argued Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at industry group NCTA, the internet and television association. 

Availability of broadband is not enough, many politicians and experts argue, if other barriers – e.g., price – prevent widespread adoption. Much focus has been directed toward boosting adoption among low-income Americans through subsidies like the Affordable Connectivity Program, but legally, middle-class adoption must also be considered. In its notice of funding opportunity for the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration required each state to submit a “middle-class affordability plan.”

During a webinar held earlier this month, Cimerman, who works for an organization that represents cable operators, defined the middle class as those who earn $45,300–$76,200, basing these boundaries on U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics for 2020. And based on the text of an Federal Communications Commission action from 2016, he set the threshold of affordability for broadband service at two percent of monthly household income.

According to his analysis, the middle class, thus defined, spends on average $69 per month on internet service. $69 is about 1.8 percent of monthly income for those at the bottom of Cimerman’s middle class and about 1.1 percent of monthly income for those at the top. Both figures fall within the 2-percent standard, and Cimerman stated that lower earners tended to spend slightly less on internet than the $69-per-month average.

Citing US Telecom’s analysis of the FCC’s Urban Rate Survey, Cimerman presented data that show internet prices dropped substantially from 2015 to 2021 – decreasing about 23 percent, 26 percent, and 39 percent for “entry-level,” “most popular” and “highest-speed” residential plans, respectively. And despite recent price hikes on products such as gas, food, and vehicles, Cimerman said, broadband prices had shrunk 0.1 percent year-over-year as of September 2022.

Widespread adoption is important from a financial as well as an equity perspective, experts say. Speaking at the AnchorNets 2022 conference, Matt Kalmus, managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group, argued that providers rely on high subscription rates to generate badly needed network revenues.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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