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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.

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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