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BroadbandCensus.com: Starting the Ball Rolling on Crowdsourcing

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2009 – Public and transparent broadband data has now been elevated to the level of a fundamental principle, at least in the Monday speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. But it’s worth reflecting on the time – not so long ago – when the quest to collect this kind of broadband data was an unrealized vision at the losing end of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

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WASHINGTON, September 22, 2009 – Public and transparent broadband data has now been elevated to the level of a fundamental principle, at least in the Monday speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.

But it’s worth reflecting on the time – not so long ago – when the quest to collect this kind of broadband data was an unrealized vision at the losing end of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

On Monday, I recounted the history and aftermath of this FOIA request and lawsuit that the Center for Public Integrity filed against Kevin Martin’s FCC. In many ways, that defeat directly set the stage for the launch of BroadbandCensus.com in the fall of 2007.

All this week, during One Web Week, I’m speaking about the history of BroadbandCensus.com 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.

BroadbandCensus.com is Born: An Attempt to Go Around the Incumbents

With the loss of the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit – which attempted to obtain carrier-level data about the broadband availability that the FCC holds in its Form 477 database – round one in the battle over broadband data went to the incumbents.

For round two, we decided to go after the broadband data using self-reported broadband data on a web site with a catchy name, like BroadbandCensus.com. In essence, BroadbandCensus.com is an effort to marry the data about the quality of broadband connections that only consumers have, with publicly discoverable data about the state of broadband connections on a geographic area.

All of this began to come together in late September 2007 – at the annual Telecommunications Policy Research Conference at George Mason University School of Law – and in early October of 2007 at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. In a blog post at the time, I wrote:

Last week was a whirlwind of activity for the telecommunications, media and technology project with which I had been engaged since August 2006.The folks at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard were kind enough to invite me to speak in their luncheon series on Tuesday, October 9. I discussed “Media Tracker, FCC Watch, and the Politics of Telecom, Media and Technology.” I’m happy to report that the event is now archived on Media Berkman as a webcast.

David Weinberger (blog: Joho the Blog) was particularly interested in broadband tracking, and how more detailed information about how to obtain information about the availability of broadband services. (See David’s post.) One of the key efforts of the project, under my direction, was the quest to obtain information from the FCC about the names of the companies that provide broadband service in each particular ZIP code. We filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington to obtain the information, under the Freedom of Information Act. The FCC denied our request. Right now the matter is pending before Judge Ellen Huvelle.

Say Doc Searls and John Palfrey, “Drew’s work links in obvious fashion toLawrence Lessig’s next 10 years of work on corruption.”

As I noted in the post, all of this made the Center for Public Integrity’s decision to scale back its “Well Connected” telecommunications and media ownership project particularly untimely. My last day at the Center was on Friday, October 12, 2007.

The active work on BroadbandCensus.com began on October 15, 2007. Together with Andrew MacRae, who had worked with me at the Center for Public Integrity – and now serves as Chief Operating Officer at BroadbandCensus.com – we began to sketch out the model for “crowdsourcing” broadband data collection efforts. On the business side, after an initial period of outreach, Broadband Census LLC was organized as a Limited Liability Company in the Commonwealth of Virginia on December 7, 2007.

BroadbandCensus.com Began Crowdsourcing Internet Data Collection Efforts

To get started, BroadbandCensus.com received some modest seed funding from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and from the Benton Foundation. We’ve also been blessed by wonderful collaborators of technical and outreach matters: Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program (I’ll speak more about eCorridors later in the week), Internet2, the Network Policy Council of EDUCAUSE, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, and others.

Working with our web designers and data architects, we built the data-collection mechanism on BroadbandCensus.com, and launched the site live on January 31, 2008. Here are links to some of the early press we received from New Scientist and Telephony Online.

The questions in the “Take the Broadband Census” are basic: (1) Where are you taking the Census, (2) What is your ZIP code, (3) Which carrier do you use? (we require individuals to select from a drop-down menu, rather than a free form box, to ensure standardization), (4) What type of service?, (5) What are your promised speeds, (6) How do you rate the service? (on a scale of 1-5 stars), and (7) Comments?

Home users are required to pick select from among the carriers; office and university users are not. Everyone taking the Broadband Census is required to include their ZIP code, or their ZIP+4 code, and to rate the service quality of their connection.

Very soon after we launched the Take the Broadband Census page, we launched Step 2, the Beta Speed Test, in February 2008. We use the open-source NDT test, or the Network Diagnostic Tool, developed by Internet2. Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program pioneered the use of NDT for public speed tests.

We do not host any NDT servers. Rather, we direct our internet traffic to eight computers around the country on which they may test their speeds. Using the programming language Java, the applet we deploy collects the results of the NDT test, copies them over to BroadbandCensus.com, and publicly displays the results of the upstream and downstream speeds on BroadbandCensus.com.

All of the content and data-sets on BroadbandCensus.com are published under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, allowing state/local governments, and universities, to freely take and republish all of the data-sets, provided that they attribute them to BroadbandCensus.com.

The combination of the Broadband Census questionnaire with the NDT speed test allows important observations to be realized. Are users getting the speeds that they are promises? Is there a correlation between promised and delivered speeds, and the rankings that consumers give to their service quality? Which carriers are the fastest, and are they faster in some parts of the country than in others?

A further dimension of BroadbandCensus.com’s activities is to help consumers monitor how well broadband providers live up to their promised terms of service. See this article about Comcast’s Terms of Service for an early example of this.

I gave an interim report about the progress and use of BroadbandCensus.com in July 2008 at the Joint Techs Conference in Lincoln, Neb.

Spreading the Word About BroadbandCensus.com and the Broadband SPARC

Building sufficient momentum behind BroadbandCensus.com has always been our biggest challenge, particularly in the those early months of 2008. This, remember, was before the intense focus that the presidential campaign, and the broadband stimulus package, placed on a data-driven approach to broadband policy.

Our marketing has been built upon word-of-mouth efforts, cross-promotion by our partners, and through the speeches and articles that I’ve written about the need for public and transparent broadband data. Among these efforts were speeches at Freedom to Connect, Internet2, NATOA, the National Conference for Media Reform, the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet’s Politics Online conference, and in other venues.

One of the ways that BroadbandCensus.com has encapsulated our efforts, in a short-hand way, is through a simple acronym: Broadband SPARC. This stands for the Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition within a particular area.

We’ve pioneered this concept of collecting and aggregating broadband data from a variety of sources – from carriers that voluntarily provide data, from consumers and the speed tests they take, and from publicly available sources. SPARC is an effort to represent the panoply of broadband options, and not simply to focus on whether “broadband,” at any particular pre-defined speed, is available or not.

One Web Day 2008 marked a turning point in our outreach efforts.

We joined together with One Web Day to help promote a conference that we organized in September 2008 – the Broadband Census for America Conference – and to urge people to Take the Broadband Census. One Web Day was one of the non-profit sponsors of the Broadband Census for America Conference, which I’ll discuss in greater detail on Wednesday.

We urge you to also Get Involved in our efforts. You can:

•Take the Broadband Census and Speed Test

•Grab a Button for Your Blog

•Join one of BroadbandCensus.com’s Committees

About BroadbandCensus.com

BroadbandCensus.com was launched in January 2008, and uses “crowdsourcing” to collect the Broadband SPARC: Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. The news on BroadbandCensus.com is produced by Broadband Census News LLC, a subsidiary of Broadband Census LLC that was created in July 2009.

A recent split of operations helps to clarify the mission of BroadbandCensus.com. Broadband Census Data LLC offers commercial broadband verification services to cities, states, carriers and broadband users. Created in July 2009, Broadband Census Data LLC produced a joint application in the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program with Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program. In August 2009, BroadbandCensus.com released a beta map of Columbia, South Carolina, in partnership with Benedict-Allen Community Development Corporation.

Broadband Census News LLC offers daily and weekly reporting, as well as the Broadband Breakfast Club. The Broadband Breakfast Club has been inviting top experts and policy-makers to share breakfast and perspectives on broadband technology and internet policy since October 2008. Both Broadband Census News LLC and Broadband Census Data LLC are subsidiaries of Broadband Census LLC, and are organized in the Commonwealth of Virginia. About BroadbandCensus.com.

Expert Opinion

Leo Matysine: The Impact of C-Band on Advancements in Mobile and Fixed Broadband

As technology is more advanced and connected to everything, the need for higher capacity networks will continue to grow exponentially.

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The Author of this Expert Opinion is Leo Matysine, Co-Founder of MatSing

When consumers think of 5G, often their minds automatically think mobile connectivity. The official C-Band launch this past January brought the idea of increased spectrum connectivity into the limelight. While this had been something anticipated by the telecommunications industry for years, finally seeing it come to fruition allowed the mainstream media to become invested in the benefits this 5G spectrum could offer.

When 5G was first introduced five years ago, it caught the attention of many who soon learned the challenge in speedy implementation due to strict infrastructure requirements. The introduction of C-Band provides a solution, enabling 5G upgrades while simultaneously addressing the coverage and capacity needs.

This heightened implementation will allow users to start seeing improvements across the board, but not just in the form of mobile connection. Outside of the benefits for mobile carriers, the advancements C-Band provides will enter in a new era for fixed broadband access especially in rural communities.

The need for fixed broadband was magnified during the pandemic as users need for internet access from home drastically increased. This exposed the digital divide rural communities are facing, causing it to gain traction with the White House. As a result, a new infrastructure bill aimed at improving the underlying network infrastructures was developed as fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-premise in rural settings have proven to be too expensive and impractical for wide implementation.

C-Band provides an alternative option allowing for wireless fixed broadband access through antennas. The mid-band frequency spectrum (1GHz to 6GHz) can provide rural users, both businesses and households, with options in providers and services they’ve been unable to experience previously.

C-Band also allows for higher speed and capacity

On top of the fixed broadband perspective where C-Band frequency spectrums are enabling rural connectivity, it allows for higher speed and capacity. The spectrums being utilized in the past while generating mobile coverage, had disadvantages in capacity and experience.

The mmWave spectrum (24GHz +) can transmit data at hyper speeds but only from limited distances, requiring line-of-site installations, whereas sub-1GHz offers the opposite. The mid-band spectrum C-Band falls under acts as a perfect balance, transmitting data at high speeds and capacities while providing the coverage needed to cover vast areas. Deployed with lens antenna technology, the additional capacity can be enabled with fewer antenna locations as compared to other antenna types, leading to financial advantages.

From a more localized vantage point, C-Band is now being integrated into marquee venues and stadiums. Within these smaller spaces, improved bandwidth and superior performance is essential given the concentrated number of users seeking connection and the inherent need for more content sharing. In order to support the mobile experience fans now expect from these venues, carriers and venue owners have turned to C-Band deployments.

Deployed atop the 4G/LTE foundation, the C-Band antenna builds off this functionality while adding the increased speed and capacity accustomed to the mid-band spectrum. Several venues will see increased results with these implementations allowing fans to experience a more reliable and overall better experience at their game days or concerts in the upcoming months.

Looking ahead, these milestones only mark the beginning of where C-Band implementation will take the telecommunications industry. As technology continues to become more advanced and connected to everyone and everything, the need for higher capacity networks will continue to grow exponentially.

Leo Matysine is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of company MatSing, the worlds leading manufacturer of large size, light weight RF lenses. MatSing introduces a new age of antenna design for the Telecommunications industry. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Expert Opinion

Patrice Williams: Reimagining the Future of Work With Digital Plus Human Efforts

‘Digital workers can help in the end-to-end automation of business processes by mimicking human behavior.’

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The Author of this Expert Opinion is Patrice Williams, Business Development Representative at Vuram.

Organizations across geographies are fast-embracing the hybrid and remote working models as they are embracing their digital transformation journeys to navigate the new normal. Adopting a digital workforce is essential to overcome a series of challenges, while it cannot replace humans. The future of work will witness humans operating side-by-side with software robots to pursue business goals and tackle future challenges.

The inclusion of a digital workforce allows organizations to function seamlessly around the clock while addressing labor shortages, learning gaps, upskilling requirements, workforce flexibility, effective crisis management, and profitability.

Who are digital workers?

The digital workforce is a variety of robotic and automated solutions that work in tandem with humans to accomplish tasks that are complex, time-consuming, repetitive, and mundane. They perform complex tasks end to end so that humans can focus on creative, critical, and high-value-added activities. The digital workforce comprises technologies like robotic process automation, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more.

Adopting digital workforce

Globally, when businesses started operating remotely, adopting digital workforce technologies helped organizations to continue operations uninterrupted by functioning seamlessly round the clock and achieving speed and efficiency.

Aided by hyperautomation technologies, the digital workers can help in the end-to-end automation of business processes by mimicking human behavior to perform actions that were previously, typically done only by humans. Following are some of the use cases:

Chatbots are increasingly being used across industries, including healthcare and banking. They can streamline customer support by handling volumes of simple customer queries around the clock, bringing down the costs, and adding efficiency. Interestingly, chatbots are predicted to save $8 billion by 2022 and save 2.5 billion hours by 2023, according to a study by Juniper Research.

Chatbots add efficiency to the new normal set up when people are working in different locations and are reimagining roles focusing on quality and cognitive skills. When integrated with the IT helpdesk, the bots can empower employees to resolve simple issues on their own, thus removing the burden on human employees.

With AI and natural language processing capabilities, these bots can understand the simple language of the users and help them with the right answers. They can help a new joiner complete the onboarding formalities, like filling out forms and helping them with instant answers to common questions about company policies, roles, responsibilities, etc.

The process of onboarding customers is different across industries, be it retail, corporate, banking, or healthcare. Irrespective of the industry, it is one of the most important and complex tasks with compliance checks, stringent regulations, documentation, security, and much more.

For instance, let’s take the bank. It involves several key steps like evaluating the customer’s profiles, recording customer data, performing background checks, fulfilling legal obligations, opening the account, interacting with the customer for any support, and finally, the account becomes operational.

AI can transform business experiences in a post-COVID world

In a post-COVID world where social distancing and other hygienic protocols are at the forefront, AI can transform the banking experience for customers. Digital onboarding can reduce time and costs while addressing the prominent challenges and ensuring compliance. In a digital environment, form fillings can be done automatically with OCR, conversational AI and a virtual assistant can support customers at any time and machine learning can be used to verify customer data across all the documents.

Fighting fraud by detection across stages is a critical part of financial institutions that handle volumes of unstructured data. Manual efforts in identifying, analyzing data, user profiling involves more effort, time, and prone to errors. RPA bot infused with AI and machine learning capabilities can curb financial frauds by monitoring every activity in the process loop and immediately notifying any concerns.

For example, credit scoring can be monitored effectively in the insurance claims process with the bots reviewing customer claims, matching them with the existing data, and monitoring the customer behavior to raise any abnormal behavior patterns. When trained, the bot can prevent money laundering by raising alerts of potentially fraudulent transactions.

Intelligent document processing helps organizations that process or handles several types of documents daily to reap the benefits of intelligent document processing. The process automatically reads, extracts, and analyzes from structured and unstructured data like online forms, resumes, email messages, invoices, text files, audio files, video files, and a lot more.

Functions like opening emails, downloading and reading attachments, filling forms, copying/pasting documents, extracting data from social media channels or other forums, reading/writing databases, and collecting and recording data, can be carried out with the help of intelligent document processing. Organizations can effortlessly search, extract, and analyze data for decision-making.

As the future of work is exploring ways to support the human workforce to perform at their highest potential while creating a happy working environment, the digital workforce can benefit the process in numerous ways.

Contrary to the popular myth that robots will replace human roles, the technologies will complement human efforts by adding quality, efficiency, and job satisfaction to perform better in the new digital workplace. Further, technology will enable businesses to overcome human limitations to maximize human potential nurturing a supportive working environment with more inclusive work culture.

Patrice Williams is the Business Development Representative at Vuram, a hyperautomation services company. Vuram has received several prominent recognitions, including the Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the United States, HFS hot vendor in 2020, and Rising Star- Product Challenger in Australia by ISG in ISG Provider Lens 2021 report. Williams has more than 20 years of experience as an operational manager and working in a multinational working environment, and has led Vuram’s hiring activities and people management. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk: Three Keys to Building Transformative Broadband Plans

‘While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.’

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Samantha Schartman-Cycyk, President of the Marconi Society

This week, I am thrilled to join state, local and tribal leaders from across the U.S. as we convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Broadband Access Summit. As a local and long-time advocate for digital inclusion, I am proud that the Pew Charitable Trusts and Next Century Cities selected Cleveland, one of the least connected cities in the country, as the site for a timely conversation about how we can effectively spend the unprecedented levels of federal funding for broadband infrastructure.

While the federal government’s infrastructure funding creates unique opportunities, it also exposes challenges that states and tribes must get in front of to ensure that funding is sustainable and implementation is effective.

The good news is that digital equity is finally front and center—where it belongs—and it has taken nearly twenty years of advocacy and practice to get us to this point.

Following are three key lessons I have learned to ensure efforts to expand connectivity are community oriented and sustainable.

1. Bring in local leadership—now

Across the country, areas that have a dedicated local leadership responsible solely for digital equity and inclusion are outpacing their counterparts. Someone, or ideally a team, needs to wake up every day thinking about what digital equity means in their community, how to make a reality in a way that supports key priorities, and where the true needs are. We have seen benefits in cities such as Detroit and Seattle, who have taken this approach.

We must support these leaders with accurate data. At the Marconi Society, a nonprofit that champions digital equity, I helped launch the National Broadband Mapping Coalition to help leaders from rural communities and urban ‘digital deserts’ identify broadband gaps. The NBMC has developed a no-cost mapping toolkit to help educate and guide communities.

2. Plan for sustainability while you have strong funding

We need to anchor digital inclusion efforts to long-term state programs to solidify funding and reinforce the intersectional impact of digital inclusion. Typically, digital inclusion programs blossom within the period of investment but falter when funding runs out, only to peak again when new grants or federal money become available.

This process wastes resources, relationships, and time, resulting in stop-and-start programs that aren’t able to address residents’ needs nor build momentum.

For example, a state like Maine with an older rural population is likely to prioritize services that allow for aging in place and telemedicine care for seniors. States like Utah or Texas, with relatively young populations, might place a higher priority on education and K–12 STEM pipelines. This alignment will allow state leaders to prioritize and bake sustainability into their broadband plans, create digital equity programs that support their priorities, and incorporate data collection into their work.

3. Create the workforce your state will need

In order to implement strong broadband plans that create true digital equity, state and local governments need a pipeline of people who understand the unique intersection of technology, policy, and grassroots digital inclusion work needed to bridge the digital divide. As of last year, nearly 20 states did not even have a dedicated broadband office to begin this work. With funding already being dispersed to states, we are at a critical moment.

To help create this workforce, the Marconi Society conceptualized and is developing the first-ever “Digital Inclusion Leadership” professional certificate with Arizona State University. The program will launch in Fall 2022 and will include top-ranked professors and leading industry experts as teachers and advisors.

I believe that this interdisciplinary workforce will continue to be in high demand as states integrate digital equity into their long-term priorities.

After years of helping to lay the groundwork for the current burst of funding and activity around digital equity, I can say that our work has only just begun. We have the gift of beginning with knowledge and funding that can be truly transformative. The digitally equitable future we are fighting for is closer than it has ever been before—let’s make sure we get this right.

Samantha Schartman-Cycyk is President of the Marconi Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing digitally equitable communities by empowering change agents across sectors. Over her 20-year career, she has built forward-thinking programs and tools to drive impact on digital inclusion at the local and national levels, through projects with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), community training, and data collecting efforts. The Marconi Society celebrates and supports visionaries building tomorrow’s technologies upon the foundation of a connected world we helped create. 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 expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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