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Broadband Mapping & Data

Network Measurement Organization Says it Can Measure Throttling Practices of Service Providers

Measurement Lab said research it has conducted can show when there are network performance issues.

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Photo of Lai Yi Ohlsen, director of Measurement Lab

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2022 – Research fellows from Measurement Lab, an open-source project dedicated to providing internet measurement data, said in a presentation on Wednesday that they have research to show that their network diagnostic tool can go beyond internet speed measurements and can identify traffic prioritization and throttling practices on service provider networks.

Measurement Lab says its mission is to track and measure internet connectivity and use, deploying its version of the open-source measurement software NDT as a performance metric for a connections’ bulk transport capacity.

But on Wednesday, the lab’s fellows said the tool can also help identify potential traffic prioritization strategies run by internet service providers. NDT can provide a graph of internal network behavior to find whether traffic blockage occurs within the internet service provider of the user or elsewhere.

NDT can also run measurement on a network to determine the quality of experience, or user satisfaction, within the network, the research fellows claim.

“Although network operators, policymakers, or any entity that does not control either end of network connections are interested in measuring [quality of experience] of the end-users, measuring it at scale is non-trivial,” read the research report. Researchers associated with M-Lab said that the process described can allow third-party users to make active or passive measurements in determining the quality of connections.

Since 2017, internet service providers have been free to prioritize traffic on their networks after the Federal Communications Commission overturned rules imposing net neutrality, which forbids providers from preferring certain traffic. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has repeatedly said she thinks the re-imposition of net neutrality rules is the best path forward for the internet economy.

Tool can help providers improve network experience

The lab’s tool can be used to determine the expected network performance as well as incidences of performance degradation, which the fellows said can help network operators improve performance and potentially prevent future incidences.

“It’s important to measure such that we can understand the individual’s ability to participate in basic activities such as paying bills, having access to information about their democracy,” said Lai Yi Ohlsen, director of the Measurement Lab at a Broadband Money Ask Me Anything event in June.

Through a four-step process, researchers can “depict a holistic picture of all the changes that happened before and during anomalous events,” read the lab’s research report.

Contributing Reporter Teralyn Whipple, who joined Broadband Breakfast in 2022, studied marketing at Brigham Young University. She has reported extensively on broadband infrastructure, investments and deployment. She has also headed marketing campaigns for several small companies.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Connect20 Summit: Data-Driven Approach Needed for Digital Navigation

The NTIA’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt broadband.

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WASHINGTON, November 20, 2023 – Better data about broadband adoption is necessary to closing the digital divide in the U.S., a broadband expert said during a panel at the Connect20 Summit here.

Speaking on a panel about “The Power of Navigation Services,” the expert, Jessica Dine of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said states lack comprehensive data on why some residents remain offline. This information is essential for digital navigator programs to succeed, she said.

She highlighted the need for standardized national metrics on digital literacy and inclusion, and said that federal surveys – including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey – provide insights on barriers to technology adoption. But more granular data is required.

She also said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt the internet. For instance, understanding the nuances behind the ‘not interested’ response category could unveil targeted intervention strategies.

In particular, Dine praised Louisiana and Delaware for surveying communities on their connectivity needs, including overlaying socio-economic indicators with broadband deployment data. But she said more work is required to quantify the precise challenges different populations face.

Other panelists at the session, including Michelle Thornton of the State University of New York at Oswego, emphasized the importance of tracking on-the-ground efforts by navigators themselves.

Bringing in her experience from the field of healthcare navigation, Thornton underscored the value of tracking navigator activities and outcomes. She suggested a collaborative model where state-level data collection is supplemented by detailed, community-level insights from digital navigators.

The panel was part of the Connect20 Summit held in Washington and organized by Network On, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Broadband Breakfast.

The session was moderated by Comcast’s Kate Allison, executive director of research and digital equity at Comcast.

To stay involved with the Digital Navigator movement, sign up at the Connect20 Summit.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

House Subcommittee Witnesses Disagree on AI for Broadband Maps

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday on using AI to enhance communication networks.

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Screenshot of Nicole Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, at the hearing Tuesday.

WASHINGTON, November 14, 2023 – Experts disagreed on the potential for artificial intelligence to aid broadband mapping efforts at a House hearing on Tuesday.

Courtney Lang, a vice president at tech industry trade group ITI, said AI could be used to improve the quality of current broadband maps.

A machine learning model could do that by using past data to identify buildings that are likely to be accurately marked as having adequate broadband, according to Lang.

“It’s a really interesting use case,” she said.

Broadband mapping is a difficult task. The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband map is on its third version, undergoing revisions as consumers submit challenges to provider-reported broadband coverage data. The Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program requires states to administer a similar ground-truthing process before allocating any of that cash.

But Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, urged caution.

“We have to be careful that we might not have enough data,” she said.

In rural parts of the country, data can be sparse and low-quality. Both factors would make machine learning ill-suited to the task of flagging potential inaccuracies, according to Lee.

She urged lawmakers to exercise restraint when using AI for “critical government functions,” like the broadband maps used to determine where federal grant money will go.

The witnesses spoke at a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on using AI to enhance American communication networks.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC is Looking to Update its Definition of Broadband

The commission would increase its standard to 100 * 20 Mbps.

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Photo of a person using an internet speed test from www.uswitch.com

WASHINGTON, November 2, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is looking to increase its definition of broadband internet speed, the agency announced on Wednesday.

The current definition, set in 2015, requires speeds of 25 megabits per second – Mbps – download and 1 Mbps upload for internet service to be considered broadband, or simply high-speed internet. The agency is seeking comment on increasing that to 100 * 20 Mbps, it said in a notice of inquiry.

“During the pandemic and even before it, the needs of internet users surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 standard for broadband. This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low- income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, a $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort set off with the 2021 Infrastructure Act, already has a benchmark of 100 * 20 Mbps. Areas with access to speeds lower than this will be eligible to get broadband upgrades with BEAD-funded infrastructure, and those with access to anything less than 25 * 3 Mbps are given special priority.

The FCC will also take comments on setting a significantly higher long-term goal: 1 Gbps * 500 Mbps. 

In addition to revamping the commission’s speed benchmarks, the inquiry will also look to evaluate the state of broadband availability in the U.S., looking at broadband deployment, affordability, adoption, and equitable access. The commission is required to do this annually by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

It will be the first of these evaluations, the NOI notes, to use the commission’s Broadband Data Collection data. Part of the 2020 Broadband DATA Act, the BDC database has more precise information on broadband availability in the U.S., and the commission is seeking comment on how best to refresh its standards and frameworks in light of the better data.

Comments are due by December 1, with reply comments due December 18.

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