National Broadband Plan: A Look at Chapter 4 and FCC Recommendations

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2010 – Section Four of the plan focuses on broadband competition and innovation policy. It’s one of the most far-reaching sections in the entire 360-page document. This second article summarizing Chapter 4 looks at the FCC’s overall recommendations to enhance the nation’s broadb

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles written by staff summarizing each chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Chapter 4 summaries will appear in three separate articles due to the breadth of the chapter’s content.

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2010 – Section Four of the plan focuses on broadband competition and innovation policy. It’s one of the most far-reaching sections in the entire 360-page document. It starts by addressing various mobile and fixed networks and moves on to discuss specific devices, privacy and identity theft. It concludes with discussion about the need for innovating and changing the current network.

This second article summarizing Chapter 4 looks at the FCC’s 11 overall recommendations to enhance the nation’s broadband ecosystem.

The first recommendation is to increase the availability of spectrum. The next set of recommendations is directed at the lack of broadband data currently available to the FCC and consumers.

The plan recommends that the FCC and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics collect more data via surveys conducted by the Census Bureau and BLS.  It also recommends that data currently collected by the FCC should be modified to include data on broadband availability, provider technology and offered speed.

In addition to collecting data directly from Internet service providers, the FCC also should utilize direct data collection from consumers through the use of speed tests. The FCC already has offered a speed test for users to test their current speeds on the FCC’s Web site.  The FCC also should begin to collect information on advertised speeds and amounts paid by consumers to determine how bundles and differing geographic areas affect the price of broadband.

The plan also recommends that the FCC look at barrier costs for users such as contract length and early termination fees.

The plan suggests that the FCC should look at who is able to subscribe to broadband to determine if any group is being denied access based on geography or income. The BLS is also advised to continue tracking the subscriber rate and costs to consumers through its current population survey.

The next set of recommendations looks at making broadband advertising easier to understand for consumers.

The FCC seems to oppose the phrase “up to” used in advertising. It believes consumers are being misled and unable to figure out their actual speeds. The commission says consumers need more information on the range of speeds they will be able to obtain and the services that those speeds can support.

The agency also recommends that the National Institute of Standards and Technology should establish technical broadband measurement standards. These new measurements would be used by a broadband measurement advisory council, which would be created by the FCC and staffed by government and industry officials.  This new advisory council is not primarily the idea of the FCC; the agency cites comments by Verizon, Time Warner Cable and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. The following key statistics would be compiled by this organization:

Actual speeds and performance over the broadband service provider’s network and the end-to-end performance of the service;

Actual speeds and performance at peak use hours;

Actual speeds and performance achieved with a given probability (e.g., 95 percent) over a set time period (e.g., one hour) that includes peak use times; and

Actual speeds and performance tested against a given set of standard protocols and applications.

This data would be used to create a nutrition-information style label that all ISPs would have to provide consumers.  This performance index would allow consumers to easily distinguish between different services by clearly displaying the maximum up speed, average up speed, average download speed, maximum download speed, and a general rating of services based on uptime and other variables.

Additionally, the FCC should publish an annual a “State of U.S. Broadband Performance” report enabling consumers to look at the top providers across the nation.

The FCC also plans to assist consumers and determine the level of broadband that is truly best for them. The agency plans to create an online decision tool for choosing broadband ISPs, which would allow consumers to input their online activities, budget and location. This tool would allow all those who are least knowledgeable to obtain the best level of service for the best price.

The plan suggests that the need for this tool is necessary since the ISPs claim different speeds are necessary for this same task across different advertisements. With regards to mobile broadband services, a self-testing application should be created that includes speeds, signal strength and overall coverage.

The rest of Chapter Four goes onto to discuss devices, applications, privacy issues and commerce issues regarding the Internet such as taxation.  A third article on Chapter will be published.

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