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NTIA Seeks Access to FCC’s Form 477 Database for Better Broadband Data

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2009 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration last week asked the Federal Communications Commission to release a key database of information about broadband deployment assembled from providers of high-speed internet access.

In a public notice dated Wednesday, November 25, the FCC said it intended to release this database — the Form 477 database — to the NTIA unless it received opposition from the carriers who have provided the broadband data by December 7, 2009.

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WASHINGTON, November 30, 2009 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration last week asked the Federal Communications Commission to release a key database of information about broadband deployment assembled from providers of high-speed internet access.

In a public notice dated Wednesday, November 25, the FCC said it intended to release this database — the Form 477 database — to the NTIA unless it received opposition from the carriers who have provided the broadband data by December 7, 2009.

The NTIA requested access to the database in a letter from Tony Wilhelm, deputy associate administrator of the NTIA. The letter, dated November 23, 2009 but not yet available, was written to the head of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau.

In its letter, NTIA explained that it wanted access to the Form 477 database in order to get a better idea about which areas of the country are served – and which areas are not served.

NTIA “intends to use this data to help validate the unserved or underserved classifications of the BTOP applicants’ provided funded service areas,” the public notice quotes Wilhelm’s letter.

BroadbandCensus.com, a sister web site to the news on broadband stimulus, wireless and the national broadband plan published on BroadbandBreakfast.com, has consistently urged that disclosure of the FCC’s Form 477 database would provide policy-makers and the general public with greater knowledge of broadband availability and competition. For a commentary about the public notice on BroadbandCensus.com, click here.

The FCC traditionally uses just such a “public notice” to alert providers to the possible disclosure of information in the Form 477 database. Following a lawsuit by the Center for Public Integrity filed on September 25, 2006, the FCC issued the following public notice “to service providers who filed FCC Form 477s with the Commission and sought confidential treatment of the information submitted.”

Further information on the Center for Public Integrity’s lawsuit seeking public access to the Form 477 database is available in this January 2007 piece and in this June 2007 piece.

News of the FCC’s public notice was first reported in StimulatingBroadband.com.

From the information available in the November 25, 2009, public notice, is unclear what information, if any, that NTIA gleans from the Form 477 database will be publicly disclosed.

On the one hand, the NTIA commits, in its letter to the FCC, to “protect confidential and propriety information from public disclosure to the fullest extent authorized by applicable law.”

But on the other hand, changes are coming to the world of broadband data. The very definition of the information that the NTIA has deemed “confidential” for the public of broadband data and mapping has changed dramatically in recent months.

The Notice of Funds Availability for broadband data and mapping, issued July 1, 2009, declared that information about the geographic areas in which providers offered service would be deemed “confidential information.”

Soon after the NoFA was released, the NTIA began to change its approach to confidentiality. In remarks at a forum in Charlottesville, Va., on July 27, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling said that now was “a new era” for broadband data, including public data about carriers that provide high-speed internet service.

He said that he hoped and expected that carriers will allow information about the areas in which they serve to be made publicly available, as they do in Canada, he said…. Strickling also said that broadband incumbents that seek to challenge broadband applicants who argue that their areas are “underserved” will have to make such information public – and in the same format as the broadband data collection efforts underway nationwide. “We need the data: I think it is a national imperative in which this data be collected,” said Strickling, responding to a question about whether carriers will in fact provide states with the information necessary to create state-level broadband maps.

In addition, Strickling said that he expected carriers to “waive” confidentiality provisions in response to public pressure for data.

These commitments were followed up by a significant course-reversal by the NTIA on August 7, 2009. The agency changed the definition of “confidential” information to allow, and possibly require, the identification of carriers providing broadband service to individual Census blocks. Previously, information about the carriers that serve a particular Census block had been considered proprietary and confidential.

The agency reiterated its position in favor of disclosing carrier identities in its August 17 report to Congress, and in a September 10 press release highlighting the initial broadband data grants. In the Report to Congress, the NTIA said that “it intends to identify all broadband providers by name on the broadband map rather than leaving such identification to the discretion of the provider. These clarifications will help enable NTIA to build a robust, accurate broadband map for the benefit of consumers and policymakers.”

In response to questions from Broadband Census News in September, NTIA spokesman Mark Tolbert underscored that the recipients of broadband mapping grants are now required to collect and to publish this carrier information at the Census block level. “Applicants have always been required to collect and provide to NTIA the names of the providers at the address/Census block/street segment level (whichever level they collect at),” Tolbert said.

“As stated in the NoFA, ‘Applicants must provide a description of how the States broadband data will be publicly accessible, clearly presented, and easily understood by the public, government and the research community. Applicants must also describe the applicants’ proposed State-level map’,” Tolbert continued.

“Accordingly, NTIA expects that all non-confidential data (and names of providers at a census block/street segment level is not confidential) will be publicly accessible.”

Tolbert said that if a broadband grant recipient refused to collect and publish this data, they risk a de-obligation of funds. He also said that the NTIA will make the carrier-level data, at the Census block level, available to the public as soon it receives the information from the mapping grant recipients.

About Broadband Census News and Broadband Census Data

BroadbandBreakfast.com is published by Broadband Census News LLC, and BroadbandCensus.com has provided news and data about broadband access and deployment since January 2008. Broadband Census Data LLC produces commercial data services for cities, states, carriers, and educational institutions. Read more about us.

BroadbandCensus.com supplements “crowdsourcing” by internet users with a variety of data-collection techniques to create public and transparent broadband maps. BroadbandCensus.com has pioneered the Broadband SPARC: for Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. See its beta map of Columbia, South Carolina at BroadbandCensusMaps.com.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. He brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. 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 Data

Federal Communications Commission Approves New Provider Transparency Requirements

Broadband providers must now create “broadband nutrition labels” which list pricing and speed information.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require that broadband providers create “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speed of internet service they provide.

The labels mimic food nutrition labels in format and aim to increase transparency of providers in their marketing to consumers.

With their approval at the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the new rules are crucial to consumers being able to find the best deals on broadband service for their personal needs.

Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the label format, saying that it allows consumers to “easily compare” information and that it is “black and white, simple to read, and easy to understand.”

The long-simmering idea was enacted by Congress in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by the president on November 15. It directed the FCC to revive the project by one year from the law’s passage.

On Thursday, Joshua Stager, New America’s deputy director for broadband and competition policy at its Open Technology Institute, called the vote “a welcome step forward and a win for consumers.” The think tank began promoting the idea last decade, and it had been endorsed by the Obama administration before being canned by the Trump administration.

Industry group Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the transparency afforded by the new policy “provides consumers with important tools to make informed choices.”

Additionally in Thursday’s meeting, when the agency tentatively revoked telecom operator China Unicom Americas’ operating authority in the United States, the agency said they had reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance in responding to what they say are potential threats from the China-based company. This inter-agency review is routinely part of determinations involving foreign-owned telecommunications companies.

The agency also updated its definition of “library” to make clear that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive funds under the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate program.

Starks emphasized that the commission’s action represented progress on digital inclusion efforts, but that unfamiliarity of Tribal libraries with the E-rate program remains a problem.

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

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

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

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

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

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

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

Definition of broadband

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

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

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

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

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

Future of spectrum

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

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

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

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

On China

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

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

Register for TPRC 2021

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

BroadbandNow launches a “consumer confidence” survey.

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

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

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

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

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

Panelists for the event:

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

Panelist resources:

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

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

See also:

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

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

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

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

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