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Broadband Data Collection and Validation Must Be Rethought, Experts Say at Breakfast Club

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2010 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission’s internal “think tank” said Tuesday that the agency was taking a fresh look at all aspects of its broadband data-collection processes: collection, validation and analysis, and dissemination.

Speaking to a roomful of panelists and telecom officials who attended Tuesday’s Broadband Breakfast Club in spite of the snow, Office of Strategic Planning Chief Paul de Sa said that the agency was sensitive to the need to balance proprietary information with the desire for transparency in its data-collection processes.

In a keynote on the topic of “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: Collecting and Using Broadband Data,” de Sa began by asking questions that frame the work of the agency on broadband data.

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WASHINGTON, February 10, 2010 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission’s internal “think tank” said Tuesday that the agency was taking a fresh look at all aspects of its broadband data-collection processes: collection, validation and analysis, and dissemination.

Speaking to a roomful of panelists and telecom officials who attended Tuesday’s Broadband Breakfast Club in spite of the snow, Office of Strategic Planning Chief Paul de Sa said that the agency was sensitive to the need to balance proprietary information with the desire for transparency in its data-collection processes.

In a keynote on the topic of “Setting the Table for the National Broadband Plan: Collecting and Using Broadband Data,” de Sa began by asking questions that frame the work of the agency on broadband data.

He outlined aspects of the data collection process: the staff must ask themselves whether they are collecting the right data, they must validate and analyze the data, and then create a process to disseminate the data. He added that there is also an inherent struggle between the principle of transparency and protecting proprietary data.

“ We are not trying to solve problems by creating immediate policy,” said de Sa, after outlining aspects of the agency’s data-collection processing. Effective use of broadband data involves defining the problem to be solved, coming up with a hypothesis, analyzing the data and either creating policy or reassessing the hypothesis.

Some major policy issues to be addressed in the broadband plan that will be released on March 17, 2010, include deployment, adoption as well as choice and competition.

The data that the FCC is looking at to solve some of these include data from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s mapping efforts, the FCC’s Form 477 data, which has been collected from carriers since 2000, periodic surveys, plus data from American Indian tribes, and crowd sourced data.

Drew Clark, Editor and Executive Director of BroadbandBreakfast.com, moderated the discussion and began by asking the panelists to explain what the Form 477 database is, and to discuss whether it was still a meaningful data source for broadband information?

Michelle Connolly, associate professor of economics at Duke University, explained that the FCC requires broadband providers to report the number of subscribers within a given Zip code. Connolly also said that the requirement to provide such data was not enforced.

Connolly said that the Form 477 database was the only systematic nationwide data-set. Additionally, the information is useful to asses historical data.

Connolly proposed that broadband providers be given identity numbers so that their coverage area over time could be tracked without revealing their identities.

Jeffery Campbell, senior director of technology and government affairs at Cisco Systems, said that the data about providers was readily discoverable. A consumer can go to any internet service provider’s web site, plug in their Zip code and see if they can receive service.

The more important question to focus on, said Campbell, is who does not have broadband at a household level?

But Connolly said that the cost of including address-level data would be too great a burden upon providers.

Broadband mapping experts Brian Webster said that measurements conducted using the U.S. national grid system allow coverage areas to be shows at levels even better than the Census block without the need for cooperation from carriers. Address-level data, he said, was frequently imprecise.

(Editor’s Note: Webster and his WirelessMapping.com firm are partners with BroadbandCensus.com, the sister company of BroadbandBreakfast.com, in offering states, counties and broadband stimulus applicants with Census-block-level information about broadband providers, technologies, speeds and prices.)

John Horrigan, director of consumer research for the FCC’s omnibus broadband initiative, addressed the challenges of constructing and merging consistent data-sets.

Horrigan said that expanding Form 477 would be analytically useful, “if there is harmonization in data sets then there is a position for rich data analysis.” Horrigan went on to discuss the survey conducted of non-adopters and small businesses in the fall of 2009. The data will be released soon after the release of the national broadband plan, said Horrigan.

Clark asked the panelists their perspectives on coordinating with the NTIA on broadband data.

De Sa said that data collected from disparate sources could be merged into the same format — it will just take a lot of comparisons and hard work.

Connolly said that Congress went about broadband data collection in a strange way. “Why not have one company do this job properly as opposed to having a bunch of them do it wrong?”

Campbell agreed that it makes more sense to collect this data once and collect it the right way. “We need to rethink what we need to know.” He believes that the right data is out there, and efforts should be made to work with providers to find out how they are collecting their data.

Webster added that there is a lot of private-sector data-sets available for purchase with valuable broadband information.

A member of the audience that represented a small wireless provider in a rural state worried about the disclosure of broadband data spurring anticompetitive behavior. This provider said that his company had submitted Form 477 data but has not complies with the NTIA’s mapping efforts for fear that such data would be made public.

Connolly and Campbell countered that withholding such data is not necessary, because competing telephone incumbents can observe the same information through observation.

Connolly – leaving early to catch a flight back to North Carolina – ended her comments by posing a question to the panel about the importance of collecting data about small businesses, not just consumers.

Horrigan agreed: it is very useful to survey businesses and find out how small business are using broadband. Webster noted that when surveying business it is important to note the differences in industries, where some types of businesses are more broadband-driven than others.

Horrigan stressed the great research being done in the academic community. When it cames to these researchers, having low-cost data is very important.

Campbell said, however, that “we need data with a clear public purpose [focused on] whether consumers have affordable quality broadband available to them.”

If the FCC and the NTIA stray from such a clear public interest focus, and instead seek information that will be primarily of benefit to private-sector providers, then very few broadband providers will be willing to provide broadband data, he said.

The video-recording of the February 9 Broadband Breakfast Club will be available on BroadbandBreakfast.com, for FREE, within the week.

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

Broadband Data

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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Broadband Data

New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

March 11, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new “fabric” for mapping broadband service across America will not only help collect more accurate data, but also unify geocoding across the broadband industry, industry experts said during a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar Thursday.

Broadband service providers are not geocoding experts, said Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, and they don’t know where all the people are.

The new fabric dataset is going to be very useful to get a granular look at what is and what is not served and to harmonize geocoding, she said.

AT&T’s Mary Henze agreed. “We’re a broadband provider, we’re not a GIS company,” she said. Unified geocode across the whole field will help a lot to find missing spots in our service area, she said.

The new Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is a major shift from the current Form 477 data that the FCC collects, which has been notoriously inaccurate for years. The effort to improve broadband mapping has been ongoing for years, and in 2019 US Telecom in partnership with CostQuest and other industry partners created the fabric pilot program.

That has been instrumental in lead to the new FCC system, panelists said. It is called a “fabric” dataset because it is made up of other datasets that interlace like fabric, Follansbee explained.

The fabric brings new challenges, especially for mobile providers, said Chris Wieczorek of T-Mobile. With a whole new set of reporting criteria to fill out the fabric, it will lead to confusion for consumers, and lots of work for the new task force, he said.

Henze said that without the fabric, closing the digital divide between those with broadband internet and those without has been impossible.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection expected to help better map rural areas

The new mapping can help in rural areas where the current geolocation for a resident may be a mailbox that is several hundred feet or farther away from the actual house that needs service, Follansbee said.

Rural areas aren’t the only places that will benefit, though. It can also help in dense urban areas where vertical location in a residential building is important to getting a good connection, said Wieczorek.

The fabric will also help from a financial perspective, because of the large amount of funding going around, said Charter Communications’ Christine Sanquist. The improved mapping can help identify where best to spend that funding for federal agencies, providers, and local governments, she said.

There is now more than $10 billion in new federal funding for broadband-related projects, with the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020 and the new $7.6 Emergency Connectivity Fund part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The new FCC task force for implementing the new mapping system was created in February 2021, and is being led by , led by Jean Kiddoo at the FCC. No specific dates have been set yet for getting the system operational.

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