Proprietary Data Cited as Challenge for Broadband Mapping

WASHINGTON, September 26 – State and federal government programs to develop maps of broadband service availability at a granular level must overcome objections by carriers to revealing what they view as proprietary information, although carriers may actually find the resulting maps beneficial, panel

Editor’s Note: The following story was published in TR Daily on September 26, 2008, and is reprinted with the  permission of Telecommunications Reports International,  Inc. This article is and remains Copyright 2008 Telecommunications Reports International, Inc.

By Lynn Stanton, TR Daily

State and federal government programs to develop maps of  broadband service availability at a granular level must overcome objections by  carriers to revealing what they view as proprietary information, although  carriers may actually find the resulting maps beneficial, panelists at the  Broadband Census for America Conference said today.

Speaking at the conference held at the Washington office  of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Art Brodsky,  director-communications at Public Knowledge, criticized the carriers’ objections  to broadband mapping projects by questioning the proprietary and competitive  value of information on where carriers have already deployed broadband services.  He noted that carriers are not being asked about future deployment plans, which  would more clearly involve competitive concerns.

Drew Clark, executive director of,  which was one of the sponsors of the conference, noted that the FCC and carriers  have objected to attempts to obtain underlying carrier data on broadband  deployment submitted to the FCC, arguing that disclosure causes competitive harm  by permitting new entrants to better target those areas lacking broadband  competition. Because the data submitted to the FCC has not been made publicly  available, and others, including the Communication Workers  of America’s Speed Matters program, have resorted to obtaining information  directly from consumers, a process Mr. Clark termed “crowd-sourcing.” By  submitting information on their own service at a particular location, and taking  download and upload speed tests, individual users can participate in the  development of broadband maps or databases.

Mr. Clark said the three purposes of  are to aid the process of competition, serve policy-makers, and aid  consumers.

Mark McElroy, chief operating officer of Connected Nation,  said that a mapping program will be beneficial if it’s relevant to consumers, in  that the map can tell them if they can get broadband at home; if it’s relevant  to providers, in that it can let them know where and why they should extend  their networks; and if it’s relevant to increased digital literacy, in that it  can be used in conjunction with an effective demand stimulation effort.

Debbie Goldman, coordinator of the CWA’s Speed Matters,  said that in developing broadband mapping and deployment policies, “the states  are the laboratories because unfortunately we don’t have a national policy.”

Kenneth Flamm, a professor of public affairs the  University of Texas-Austin, said that collecting information on broadband use  “is a job actually for the federal government and the federal statistical  agencies,” but that they lack adequate funding and don’t do a good job of  keeping up with relatively new services. “There shouldn’t be an argument about  whether the government going out to try to measure the state of the market is  somehow infringing [on private companies] . . . There’s no private-public  conflict here,” he added.

A member of the audience suggested the Internal Revenue  Service and private online tax-filing companies could capture information on  broadband connection rates with an “opt-in” speed-test at the time of filing.  Mr. Flamm said that was a “clever idea.”

Speaking during the closing keynote, Eamonn Confrey, first  secretary-information and communications policy at the Irish Embassy in  Washington, explained his country’s broadband initiatives, which include its website. The overall purpose of the site is to help consumers  and small business, he said. While customers cannot order broadband service on  the site, it does include links to broadband providers in their area. It also  has a tool to check if digital subscriber line (DSL) service – the principal  nonmobile broadband technology in Ireland – is available at the user’s  fixed-line phone number.

The website also allows consumers “to register their  demand for broadband,” so providers can see where there is demand.

“Initially, there was a lot of resistance from larger  providers” to listing their services on the website, which is a voluntary  process for providers, Mr. Confrey said. Eventually, however, they came to see  it as a competitive disadvantage not to be listed there. The website “has proved  to be a win-win for provider and consumer alike,” he added.

The government also recently launched a national broadband  scheme to reach the remaining 10% of the population that does not have broadband  service available, Mr. Confrey said. The government provides funding to induce  broadband in those areas while setting requirements to ensure that “the winning  company won’t be able to cherry-pick” within the contracted area.

Mr. Confrey emphasized that the Irish government views  broadband deployment as “an economic competitiveness issue for us,” as the  country seeks to retain employers like Yahoo, Inc., and Google, Inc., that are  attracted by an English-speaking, “fairly well educated” workforce in Europe.  “You simply won’t retain that kind of investment without the infrastructure,” he  added.

– Lynn Stanton,

TR Daily, September 26, 2008

Copyright © 2008, Telecommunications Reports International,  Inc.