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BroadbandCensus.com: Leading the Charge for Public and Transparent Data

WASHINGTON, September 21, 2009 – Broadband data is important for the future of our country – and public and transparent broadband data is even more important. Today, at this moment, the new Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is making a speech in which he is highlighting the vital principle of public and transparent broadband data.

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WASHINGTON, September 21, 2009 – Broadband data is important for the future of our country – and public and transparent broadband data is even more important.

Today, at this moment, new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is making a speech in which he is highlighting the vital principle of public and transparent broadband data.

For three years now, this principle has been the core belief animating my efforts as a journalist, and as the entrepreneur founding BroadbandCensus.com. Now, as we enter the fourth year since this saga began, it’s time to take stock and reflect on what BroadbandCensus.com has accomplished.

And with One Web Week having arrived, I’d like to lay out this history from a personal perspective. In this series of blog posts, I’m going to speak about what we’ve been through, who we have worked with to advance the principles of public and transparent broadband data, and what we ultimately aim to achieve at BroadbandCensus.com.

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

The Beginnings: Why I Sued Kevin Martin’s Federal Communications Commission

BroadbandCensus.com was founded in October 2007 after I spent nearly a year and a half with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative journalism organization based here in Washington. But the quest for public and transparent broadband data goes back further.

For more than 15 years, I have covered the politics of telecom, media and technology. Most of that was spent at the National Journal Group in Washington, a key source of inside information about policy and lobbying. My aim there, as it is now, was to ensure that all the facts are brought to the table, that divergent viewpoints are fairly represented, and that questions asked go to the center of the debate.

When it came to broadband, the looming questions were and still are: where do we have broadband in the United States, and who is offering it? What kind of service is promised, and are carriers delivering on those promises?

In 2006, issues of broadband policy lurked in the background of many major political and media controversies: Net neutrality, online piracy, media ownership and control, the build out of high-speed networks, both wired and wireless, and the role of Web 2.0 in government and society. Whatever the ultimate resolutions for each of these controversies, the first step was better broadband data.

At this time, I headed the Center for Public Integrity’s media and telecommunications project, “Well Connected.” We were expanding its focus on media ownership to the new source of media control: the nation’s broadband infrastructure.

The Federal Communications Commission had a database about the carriers that offer broadband by ZIP code. This database is created from the carriers filing the Form 477 with the FCC. The FCC publishes other databases of the locations of radio and television broadcasters, and of cable companies. We asked for a copy of the Form 477 database in August 2006. At that time, we cited the Freedom of Information Act.

An FCC staff member called me to discuss arrangements for getting our electronic copy. When I called the FCC staffer back, less than 45 minutes later, he told me that he had been instructed not to talk to me further. From that point on, only Kevin Martin’s lawyers would do the talking.

The FCC missed their 20-day deadline to timely respond to our FOIA letter. On September 25, 2006, the Center for Public Integrity filed suit in federal district court , seeking to enforce our FOIA request. We asked the district court to grant us access to the Form 477 database, with information about subscriber numbers redacted (if necessary). The end result would be a database with the names of the carriers that offer broadband on a ZIP code basis.

Even though the FCC has been collecting the Form 477 since 2000, and already has a database of all of this information, they have only ever released the number of providers within a ZIP code, and not the names of the providers. Even then, the agency only released the number if the number was four or more – out of an excessive concern for identifying carrier information.

That’s like saying that the government will restrict the release of information it has about how many gas stations there are in your town if there are not four or more gas stations in town. In any case, the government won’t tell you the names of the gas stations, or where you can find them, so that you can buy gas. And most definitely, they won’t share the prices at which the gas stations sell gas.

“We filed suit against the FCC to obtain the data that the public and policy-makers need in order to get a complete and accurate picture of the current state of broadband,” I said at the time.

Broadband Providers Seek to Forestall Publication of Carrier-Level Broadband Data

I’ve recounted the story of the FOIA litigation at great length, in June 2007, in a story, “Center Spearheads Efforts to Disclose Broadband Data,” and in February 2009 in Ars Technica, “US broadband infrastructure investments need transparency.”

We were seeking something quite straightforward: the identities of broadband carriers that offer service within a particular geographic location. At the time, we were seeking ZIP code information, because that was the best information that the FCC had.  I and many others have long recognized that ZIP codes are extremely problematic and coarse unit of measurement. And that is why it is extremely positive that, in July 2009, the NTIA declared that it needed broadband information by Census block.

But in 2006 and 2007, getting carrier-level broadband data by ZIP would have been a good first step. Then-Chairman Kevin Martin, of course, was never a fan of public disclosure. After his agency nixed any sort of collaboration or compromise in approaching our FOIA request, Martin sought to shore up support from industry. On December 15, 2006, the agency issued a “Public Notice to Service Providers Who Filed FCC Form 477s With The Commission And Sought Confidential Treatment Of The Information Submitted.”

AT&T and Verizon Communications, along with the Wireless Communications Association International, intervened in the lawsuit. Others filed as “friends of the court,” on the side of the FCC. The public notice and the interventions forced Judge Rosemary Collyer to recuse herself from the case, as she owned stock in AT&T. The case went to Judge Ellen Huvelle.

“As a non-profit publisher of investigative journalism committed to transparent and comprehensive reporting both in the U.S. and around the world, the Center for Public Integrity believes that making data about the names of the broadband provider on a ZIP code-by-ZIP code basis would allow consumers to ‘truth-check’ the FCC data,” I wrote at the time. “Adding citizen-provided information about the speed, quality and price of such connections would, in turn, create a robust collection of information further informing telecommunications-related public policy debates.”

In their defense, the carriers said that disclosure would cause them competitive harm – the legal standard for denying the disclosure of data under the Freedom of Information Act.

In our legal briefings, the Center noted “that all of the major communications companies – including cable, wireless and telecom players – already provide ZIP code lookup of service availability on their Web sites.” If the information was not available on web site, the information was readily available by calling up the carrier and asking if service was available at that address. Because such information was already readily-discoverable, aggregating the data on a single web site would not cause competitive harm, either.

Among those who intervened in the suit, some sincerely believed that disclosure would have caused them harm. Others litigated merely because of the possibility of a negative FOIA precedent. Whatever the case, Kevin Martin’s FCC certainly went all-out to defend restrictions on data.

In its legal briefings, the FCC argued that releasing the data would lead to competition in communications. “Disclosure could allow competitors to free ride on the efforts of the first new entrant to identify areas where competition is more likely to be successful,” the agency told the federal district court in Washington.

It was supremely ironic that that the FCC and the communications industry were fighting our efforts to obtain public and transparent broadband data at the same time that Congress and the FCC began to clamor for precisely that which we were seeking: better broadband data to address a range of policy concerns.

Together with my friend Scott Wallsten, then of the Progress and Freedom Foundation (later with Technology Policy Institute, and now at the FCC), the Center for Public Integrity organized a Conference on Broadband Statistics on June 28, 2007, at the National Academy of Science.

Scott and I gathered an assemblage of many people, including officials from Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, ConnectKentucky, plus leading academics and policy practitioners in the field, including experts from Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Pew Internet and American Life Project, and the University of Texas at Austin, to consider precisely these questions. Audio from the June 2007 conference is available here; a transcript of the proceeding is available here.

More recently, Wallsten’s appointment as the economics director of the FCC’s broadband task force has prompted some controversy. But Wallsten has always been supportive of my efforts – and those of others in the field – to push for greater disclosure of broadband data. See “What Disconnect?,” and “Hiding the Broadband Map.”

The Aftermath: Kevin Martin and Me

Unfortunately, the Center lost the lawsuit when Judge Huvelle ruled against the Center in August 2007, and again in October 2007 after a motion for reconsideration. I’ll talk briefly in Tuesday’s blog post about the founding of BroadbandCensus.com in the aftermath of this defeat, and on Wednesday about BroadbandCensus.com’s efforts, in 2008, to advance public and transparent broadband.

But it’s worth fast-forwarding to get to the end of the Kevin Martin story.

Martin’s tenure at the FCC was marked by his repeated jokes about how he led the FCC like the KGB. That would seem to be of a piece with denying Freedom of Information Act requests like the one I initiated.

Yet I never anticipated just how pointed his criticism of public and transparent broadband data could be. I had been invited to speak at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ and the FCC’s joint conference on broadband deployment and data at the FCC, in San Jose, on November 6, 2008 – two days after the presidential election.

In my presentation, on the background to and requirements of the Broadband Data Improvement Act, I referred to the Center’s FOIA lawsuit, quoted in the section above, about how the FCC didn’t want disclosure of carrier data to lead to greater competition. Kevin Martin interrupted my presentation seven times! He disagreed with my characterization of the FCC’s position on broadband data.

“It was actually also because the carriers do not want it to be disclosed, and so it was not provided in a public way,” Martin first interjected. I disagreed with him, saying that “The FCC chose through its discretion over a period of time not to release information about carrier by carrier level.”

To which Martin replied, “I am not going to have an argument with you over it. I think we should move on…. This is not about FOIA litigation.  No one is interested in that.”

I came back with, “I am just pointing out that the law does not need to be changed for the FCC to release this data.”

And that still isn’t the end of the story.

Two weeks later, on November 18, 2008, Kevin Martin was back in Washington for what appeared to be his final swan song: accepting an award at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies at the National Press Club. Martin gave his remarks, and was praised by the Phoenix Center. After chatting with journalists for a few minutes, we all went our separate ways.

Later, as I was walking over to the elevator to depart, I saw the elevator door closing on Kevin Martin and his long-time chief of staff, Dan Gonzalez.

Martin opened the doors by pushing the open button, and I walked in. Martin asked me what I had in my hands. It was a box with flyers, so I handed him a flyer from BroadbandCensus.com, and told him a bit about our next upcoming activity as the elevator went to the ground floor.

As we stepped into the lobby, I asked Martin if he had a nice trip back from the broadband data conference in San Jose.

He chuckled somewhat under his breath, and then said: “You may not believe this, but I think what you are doing is a good thing. I just can’t end up giving it to you.”

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.

Europe

Helge Tiainen: Fiber Access Extension Eases Connectivity Worries for Operators, Landlords and Tenants

A new law presents an opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure for fiber broadband deployment.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Helge Tiainen, head of product management, marketing and sales at InCoax.

Previously, tenants living in the United Kingdom’s estimated 480,000 blocks of flats and apartments had to wait for a landlord’s permission to have a broadband operator enter their building to install faster connectivity. But that is no longer the case.

At the beginning of the year, a new UK law change meant that millions of UK tenants are no longer prevented from receiving a broadband upgrade due to the silence of their landlords. The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act allows internet service providers to access a block of flats 35 days after the ISP’s request to the landlord. It is estimated that an extra 2,100 residential buildings a year will be connected as a result.

Broadband companies have advised that currently around 40 percent of their requests for access to install connections in multi-dwelling units are delayed or blocked, due to no landlord response. Undoubtedly, tenants residing in these flats and apartment blocks are those most effected by a lack of accessibility to ultra-fast connectivity. So, how can ISPs grasp this newfound opportunity?

Harnessing the existing infrastructure

For many ISPs, MDUs pose a market that is largely untapped in the UK. Why is this? Well, for starters, typically these types of properties present logistical challenges, and are lower down in the pecking order in terms of the low hanging fruits readily available when it comes to installing fiber to the premises. The more attractive prospects are buildings in densely populated areas that can be covered easily with gigabit broadband.

Whereas, MDUs have typically been those underserved. Signing a broadband contract with a customer in a single-family unit is easier than an MDU as it involves securing permissions from building and apartment owners for construction works, as well as numerous tenants. For those ISPs tasked with upgrading tenants’ existing broadband connections, there are other challenges prevalent such as rising costs, wiring infrastructure changes and contract requirements, including minimum take-up rates.

So, there has been no better time to use the existing infrastructure readily available within the property. A fiber-only strategy can be supplemented if fiber to the extension point is employed where necessary. A multi-gigabit broadband service can be delivered at a lower cost and reach more customers over existing infrastructure for a short section of wire leading to the customer premises and inside the premises.

Bringing gigabit connectivity floor to floor

The UK government hopes that 85% of the UK will be able to access gigabit fixed broadband by 2025. However, installing fiber to every flat can be a challenge that is expensive, labor-intensive and disruptive to customers. Landlords may be hesitant to grant permissions due to the aforementioned reasons and potential cosmetic damage caused. Historically, fiber deployments in MDUs can be as much as 40% of fiber to the building deployment costs.

MDU buildings have existing coaxial networks, and reusing this infrastructure is a tangible possibility and time-saving alternative for ISPs instead of installing fiber direct to the premises. Which can be costly if the take-up rate is low for new services. The coaxial networks in MDUs can be used in an innovative way as in-building TV networks are upgraded to support higher frequency spectrums thanks to the analogue switchover to digital TV services.

ISPs can potentially opt to use fiber access extension technology for a cost-effective and less complex upgrade of broadband as it utilizes the existing in-house coax cable infrastructure. The technology provides multi-gigabit broadband services, positioning it as a clear frontrunner when optical fiber cannot be deployed due to construction limitations, a lack of ducts, building accessibility, and technical or historical preservation reasons.

Time for change

Not only does this landmark new law allow ISPs to seek rights to access a flat or an apartment if the landlord required to grant access is unresponsive, but it also prevents any situations where a tenant is unable to receive a service simply due to the silence of a landlord.

This is a crucial opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure for broadband access as TILPA enables subscribers and service providers to circumvent landlords who fail to provide access permission.

As many ISPs look to seamlessly execute their fiber deployment strategies, using cost-effective solutions can accelerate the addressable number of subscribers and allow for a major return on investment.

As head of product management, marketing and sales at InCoax, Helge Tiainen is responsible for developing sales and marketing of existing products and new business opportunities among cable, telecom and mobile operators by developing use cases and technologies within standard organizations as Broadband Forum, MoCA, Small Cell Forum and other working groups. He also manages partnerships of key technology partners suited with InCoax initiatives. 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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Asia

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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Expert Opinion

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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