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Drew Clark: How Abraham Lincoln’s Belief in Equal Opportunity Animated a Passion for Infrastructure Improvements

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Editor’s Note: Around the time of Presidents’ Day eight years ago, I wrote this piece about the connection between Abraham Lincoln’s passion for infrastructure improvements and his belief in equal opportunity. I linked it to the then pressing – and still pressing – need for infrastructure improvements in Rural America. On Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday today, this is my tribute to our 16th president: Applying the principles that inspired leaders of the past to the problems we face today. A few years later, in 2015, I did another take on infrastructure in Lincoln’s home state: “What Henry Clay’s and Abraham Lincoln’s ‘Internal Improvements’ Means for Gigabit Infrastructure Today

SPRINGFIELD, February 21, 2011 – President Abraham Lincoln began his political career here with a passionate interest in infrastructure improvements.

America knows President Lincoln today because his belief in equal opportunity. What connects that which we know about Lincoln and that which brought him into public life?

“Lincoln knew firsthand the deprivations, the marginal livelihood of the subsistence farmer unable to bring produce to market without dependable roads,” writes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “Primitive roads, clogged waterways, lack of rail connections, inadequate schools — such were not merely issues to Lincoln, but hurdles he had worked all his life to overcome in order to earn an ampler share of freedom.”

Today’s “internal improvements” aren’t about canals or railroads, but about an information superhighway — one that needs to run through all the towns, villages and boroughs of our united nation.

These improvements are, in a word, about broadband.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of February 2009, our nation’s communications agencies were charged with investing in broadband infrastructure, devising a plan to encouraged improved utilization — and to map it. And last Thursday, February 17, marked a new day for broadband data collection with the release of the National Broadband Map (NBM), at http://broadbandmap.gov.

Commentary has only just begun to emerge about this significant map. It will take some time to digest the enormity of more than 25 million items of data.

Three of the most important aspects about the national broadband map are: carrier confidentiality; measuring speeds and prices; and matching data about supply with data about demand.

Putting Broadband on the Map

The most important single fact about the NBM is that it includes the identities of broadband providers, on a Census block-by-Census block basis. That’s pretty important. Imagine a list of airline flight reservations without knowing which company’s plane you’d be flying on.

Broadband carriers have resisted this disclosure for years. On the one hand, this resistance is mysterious, given that consumers know who sells them broadband. Plus, wireless companies are known for waving their colored coverage maps on television ads. On the other hand, carriers have a instinctive reaction against having their service areas directly compared against, and exposed to, their competitors.

But the time for these arguments is now passed. Consider how far we have come. In September 2006, while at the non-profit Center for Public Integrity, we filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the Federal Communication Commission’s Form 477 database, which contains the names of carriers at the ZIP code level. An average of 7,750 people live in a single ZIP code. In other words, they are not that granular. Census block information isn’t address level information, but it’s a lot closer to addresses. An average of 38.75 people live within a single Census block. That gives a fairly decent representation of whether service is truly available to the consumer who inquires.

We lost the lawsuit over ZIP code broadband data, but momentum in favor of carrier disclosure ultimately has been accepted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Initially, the NTIA’s July 1, 2009, rules, said that carrier information, even at the Census block, would be confidential. Fortunately, it quickly changed its mind. On August 7, 2009, the NTIA declared, in the Federal Register, that “a service provider’s footprint will likewise no longer be included in the definition of confidential information.”

Entities funded by the NTIA must collect and submit this carrier information to NTIA. And Census block-level carrier data is now published on the National Broadband Map. It’s also available to State Broadband Data and Development entities – like Broadband Illinois – and is visible on our map at http://broadbandillinois.org. Perhaps more significantly, this data has been released via Application Programming Interfaces to software developers. It is public data, free for any conceivable use and reuse.

Speeds and Prices

The NBM has detailed data about which carriers offer service where. It allows the user to distinguish cable modem service and DSL service from wireless offerings. It renders displays with a degree of analytical capability previously lacking. There are also great visualizations of broadband based upon particular demographic information.

Two complaints are been being made about NBM, Version 1.0. The first are questions about accuracy. The second is the lack of price data, and of actual speed test data.

With regard to the accuracy of the data, it’s important to think about what is now being seen, for the first time: carriers claim that they offer broadband in areas that they may not actually serve. Until we had the NBM, which identifies these carriers in their Census blocks, this fact was hidden. But now that carrier footprints are publicly available, a public verification process may begin. This is the work that all of us are engaged in.

Including actual speed test results and prices will also be vital. Again, knowing the carrier is the key to unlocking the usefulness of this data. I launched BroadbandCensus.com in January of 2008 in order to “crowdsource” broadband data across multiple dimensions. We called this the Broadband SPARC — for speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition. These elements are necessary components for understanding, and ranking, the economic and broadband vitality of regions, counties, and Census sub-units.

Crowdsourcing is difficult to get started. But it will ultimately be more useful than carrier data. Think of it as the difference between a regular road map, for example, and the traffic maps that you can click on and off using Google Maps. The web site of Broadband Illinois includes a broadband speed test component that is collecting carriers’ actual speeds, with consumer ratings. We are also collecting and publishing consumers’ monthly prices. Having this information will aid everyone’s quest to understand the health of our broadband networks.

Supply and Demand

The next step for the NBM is not as a map. Ultimately, the NBM needs to stand for the National Broadband Mashup. That means that it should provide data and functionality from multiple sources, creating new services in the process.

Two experiences illustrate the point. Before the opportunity arose for me to move to the Land of Lincoln and lead the Partnership for a Connected Illinois (also known as Broadband Illinois), Broadband Census created its own beta map of the state of broadband, including carriers, technologies and advertised speeds, in Columbia, South Carolina. We did this without any access to carrier-supplied data. In other words, there are lots of data sources that can be combined in a common-sense fashion and generate useful results.

The other experience concerns the U.S. Broadband Coalition, a large and diverse coalition whose formation presaged the National Broadband Plan. The group offered many recommendations that were included in the FCC’s plan. I had the opportunity to co-chair the Metrics Working Group with Rob Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Our group generated a surprising amount of consensus around a series of recommendations. One of these recommendations was the creation of a National Broadband Data Warehouse. The stated goal was to assemble as much raw data, from as many sources as possible, into a repository from which mashups and analyses can be performed.

One of the most vital of these sources of new broadband information will be about the ways and areas in which broadband could be effectively used. Basic carrier information is now available about the “supply” of broadband. This data will be refined, verified and checked through crowdsourcing, and through comparisons with other public sources. Now is time to ensure that information about broadband “demand” is also being collected and imported into national and state broadband warehouses.

All told, the United States spends more than $8 billion a year on various forms of statistics. Much of that goes to fund the U.S. Census Bureau and data collection about agricultural and labor markets, such as the monthly unemployment report. These are important. But remember that we are no longer fundamentally an agriculture- or even labor-based economy. Whether for rural and for urban areas – and Illinois has both in abundance – the pathway to opportunity today runs through the super-high-speed internet connectivity.

Today, that’s something that Abraham Lincoln would surely appreciate.

This Expert Opinion commentary originally appeared on Broadband Illinois at http://broadbandillinois.org/news/7 on Monday, February 21, 2011.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. 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. 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

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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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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