WASHINGTON, November 30, 2009 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration last week asked the Federal Communications Commission to release a key database of information about broadband deployment assembled from providers of high-speed internet access.
In a public notice dated Wednesday, November 25, the FCC said it intended to release this database — the Form 477 database — to the NTIA unless it received opposition from the carriers who have provided the broadband data by December 7, 2009.
The NTIA requested access to the database in a letter from Tony Wilhelm, deputy associate administrator of the NTIA. The letter, dated November 23, 2009 but not yet available, was written to the head of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau.
In its letter, NTIA explained that it wanted access to the Form 477 database in order to get a better idea about which areas of the country are served – and which areas are not served.
NTIA “intends to use this data to help validate the unserved or underserved classifications of the BTOP applicants’ provided funded service areas,” the public notice quotes Wilhelm’s letter.
BroadbandCensus.com, a sister web site to the news on broadband stimulus, wireless and the national broadband plan published on BroadbandBreakfast.com, has consistently urged that disclosure of the FCC’s Form 477 database would provide policy-makers and the general public with greater knowledge of broadband availability and competition. For a commentary about the public notice on BroadbandCensus.com, click here.
The FCC traditionally uses just such a “public notice” to alert providers to the possible disclosure of information in the Form 477 database. Following a lawsuit by the Center for Public Integrity filed on September 25, 2006, the FCC issued the following public notice “to service providers who filed FCC Form 477s with the Commission and sought confidential treatment of the information submitted.”
News of the FCC’s public notice was first reported in StimulatingBroadband.com.
From the information available in the November 25, 2009, public notice, is unclear what information, if any, that NTIA gleans from the Form 477 database will be publicly disclosed.
On the one hand, the NTIA commits, in its letter to the FCC, to “protect confidential and propriety information from public disclosure to the fullest extent authorized by applicable law.”
But on the other hand, changes are coming to the world of broadband data. The very definition of the information that the NTIA has deemed “confidential” for the public of broadband data and mapping has changed dramatically in recent months.
The Notice of Funds Availability for broadband data and mapping, issued July 1, 2009, declared that information about the geographic areas in which providers offered service would be deemed “confidential information.”
Soon after the NoFA was released, the NTIA began to change its approach to confidentiality. In remarks at a forum in Charlottesville, Va., on July 27, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling said that now was “a new era” for broadband data, including public data about carriers that provide high-speed internet service.
He said that he hoped and expected that carriers will allow information about the areas in which they serve to be made publicly available, as they do in Canada, he said…. Strickling also said that broadband incumbents that seek to challenge broadband applicants who argue that their areas are “underserved” will have to make such information public – and in the same format as the broadband data collection efforts underway nationwide. “We need the data: I think it is a national imperative in which this data be collected,” said Strickling, responding to a question about whether carriers will in fact provide states with the information necessary to create state-level broadband maps.
In addition, Strickling said that he expected carriers to “waive” confidentiality provisions in response to public pressure for data.
These commitments were followed up by a significant course-reversal by the NTIA on August 7, 2009. The agency changed the definition of “confidential” information to allow, and possibly require, the identification of carriers providing broadband service to individual Census blocks. Previously, information about the carriers that serve a particular Census block had been considered proprietary and confidential.
The agency reiterated its position in favor of disclosing carrier identities in its August 17 report to Congress, and in a September 10 press release highlighting the initial broadband data grants. In the Report to Congress, the NTIA said that “it intends to identify all broadband providers by name on the broadband map rather than leaving such identification to the discretion of the provider. These clarifications will help enable NTIA to build a robust, accurate broadband map for the benefit of consumers and policymakers.”
In response to questions from Broadband Census News in September, NTIA spokesman Mark Tolbert underscored that the recipients of broadband mapping grants are now required to collect and to publish this carrier information at the Census block level. “Applicants have always been required to collect and provide to NTIA the names of the providers at the address/Census block/street segment level (whichever level they collect at),” Tolbert said.
“As stated in the NoFA, ‘Applicants must provide a description of how the States broadband data will be publicly accessible, clearly presented, and easily understood by the public, government and the research community. Applicants must also describe the applicants’ proposed State-level map’,” Tolbert continued.
“Accordingly, NTIA expects that all non-confidential data (and names of providers at a census block/street segment level is not confidential) will be publicly accessible.”
Tolbert said that if a broadband grant recipient refused to collect and publish this data, they risk a de-obligation of funds. He also said that the NTIA will make the carrier-level data, at the Census block level, available to the public as soon it receives the information from the mapping grant recipients.
About Broadband Census News and Broadband Census Data
BroadbandBreakfast.com is published by Broadband Census News LLC, and BroadbandCensus.com has provided news and data about broadband access and deployment since January 2008. Broadband Census Data LLC produces commercial data services for cities, states, carriers, and educational institutions. Read more about us.
BroadbandCensus.com supplements “crowdsourcing” by internet users with a variety of data-collection techniques to create public and transparent broadband maps. BroadbandCensus.com has pioneered the Broadband SPARC: for Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition. See its beta map of Columbia, South Carolina at BroadbandCensusMaps.com.