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The Journey of a Million Miles Begins With Basic Broadband Research

PHILADELPHIA, Penn., February 3, 2010 – Investment in broadband infrastructure, most believe, is essential to our nation’s future economic health.

In an information economy, the race is to the swift: those who can quickly access more, better information will innovate, communicate, and transact at a far greater rate than those who cannot. That’s how the argument goes. As our nation prepares to invest billions in broadband infrastructure, it appears that “We the People” have accepted that argument.

One nagging question remains: is the argument valid?

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Editor’s Note: The following guest commentary appears by special invitation of Broadband Census News. Neither BroadbandCensus.com nor BroadbandBreakfast.com endorse the views in the commentary. We invite officials, experts and individuals interested in the state of broadband to offer commentaries of their own. To offer a commentary, please e-mail commentary@broadbandcensus.com. Not all commentaries may be published.

PHILADELPHIA, Penn., February 3, 2010 – Investment in broadband infrastructure, most believe, is essential to our nation’s future economic health.

In an information economy, the race is to the swift: those who can quickly access more, better information will innovate, communicate, and transact at a far greater rate than those who cannot. That’s how the argument goes. As our nation prepares to invest billions in broadband infrastructure, it appears that “We the People” have accepted that argument.

One nagging question remains: is the argument valid? Absent corroborating data, it’s just a plausible hypothesis…and many such arguments have been disastrously wrong. History is littered with them: the South Sea Bubble, Tulipomania, the Laffer Curve, and last but not least, the Internet Bubble of the 1990’s.

Looking to history is one way to test for the accuracy of the argument. However, we lack a valid comparison for broadband connectivity. As technological innovations go, the Internet and the World Wide Web are unprecedented.

Trains, planes, and the telegraph machine were all astonishing, transformational technologies. The Internet, however, is more on the level of the taming of fire for human use or the invention of the wheel.

Thus, when an academic study comes along that appears to find a correlation between broadband access and positive outcomes – even one that carries with it many caveats, people pay attention. Such was the case with a study authored by Jed Kolko of the Public Policy Institute of California, published on January 12, 2010.

The study, entitled “Does Broadband Boost Local Broadband Development?,” used traditional economic research methods to examine the relationship between broadband availability and economic growth in parts of California. The next day, Kolko and research consultant Davin Reed presented the results to about fifty people at the New America Foundation’s headquarters in Washington.

On the dais were Kolko, Joanne Hovis, President of CTCnet and president-elect of NATOA; Sascha Meinrath, Director of NAF’s Open Technology Initiative; and Benjamin Lennett, Policy Analyst at NAF.

Video of the full meeting is available on YouTube.

The presentation lasted a little over two hours, and included an overview of the study, a headline-level description of its results, and a lively discussion with the clearly well-informed audience.

A quick summary follows:

  • The official headline is that in some areas of California, there is a strong, positive correlation between broadband access and employment growth—particularly in areas with a strong technology sector and low population density.
  • There are many caveats, about which Kolko was forthcoming. With this kind of research it is quite impossible to rule out all sources of error without constructing a study that has no relevance to the real world. By describing the limitations of the research, Kolko did what any responsible researcher would do. This does not imply, however, that the audience expressed much interest in them. There appeared to be a rush to generalize from a few locations in California to the world at large, which leads us to the next point
  • The unofficial headline, far more salient than Kolko’s study and far more urgently felt among the audience, was hunger for data about the impact of broadband on the economic health of communities, as well as what some call “externalities.” “Externalities” are things that really matter, such as safe housing, good health, and a living wage. They are central to the quality of life, but are often intangible—in other words, they are “external” to economists’ ability to measure them.
  • As some noted, it would behoove the U.S. to relinquish its need to see itself as superior and instead look to other countries that have led in broadband investment, the opening of access and the encouragement of adoption.
  • Simultaneously, there was little awareness among this group of the research that has been done in fields outside of economics, and public policy. For instance, there was no awareness of the research showing that for certain chronic behavioral syndromes, such as compulsive gambling, smoking, and overeating, Internet-mediated treatment is highly effective and may be more appealing to patients who feel uncomfortable publicly disclosing the nature of their problems.

This last discussion was, if anything, the clearest piece of evidence pointing to the need for something Paul Budde, one of the architects of Australia’s ambitious Internet program, terms “trans-sectoral” thinking.

This is thinking across the boundaries long held in tightly bound organizational silos and not permitted to ‘fraternize’ Budde believes that the greatest gains from connectivity will come when people learn to venture beyond their narrow silos of expertise and begin to share, with mutual curiosity and respect, the ways their discipline would approach a problem, how it would ensure that the remedy was appropriate and measure outcomes.

For the first time in history, we have the machinery that could make that possible. When this comes to fruition, the ‘real’ world and the world online will enjoy that rare state of being greater than the sum or their parts. And we will be the beneficiaries.

Broadband Data

Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Data

FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Broadband Data

Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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