Congress: Measure Broadband Better!

Posted by Sam Churchill on

Ars Technica has a good overview of the move to better measure broadband penetration in the United States:

Saying that the FCC “has not kept pace with the times or the technology,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) opened a hearing this week into the FCC’s methods for measuring broadband availability in the US. The US lags in speed, availability, and value, said Markey, compared to a country like Japan, where most residents can pay $30 a month for 50Mbps fiber connections to the Internet (which some senators would like to see migrate across the Pacific). But without accurate data on US broadband, neither the government nor private industry will be able to put forward a comprehensive national broadband plan.

The Broadband Census of America Act, currently in draft form, asks the FCC to increase its broadband threshold speed from 200Kbps to 2Mbps and to stop claiming that a ZIP code has broadband access if even a single resident in that ZIP code does. It also asks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to prepare a map for the web that will show all this data in a searchable, consumer-friendly format.

The plan went over well with the consumer advocates who appeared before the subcommittee. Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, said that the US is “stuck with a twentieth century Internet” and that he would support increasing the “broadband” definition to 2Mbps. Ben Scott of Free Press echoed that sentiment, suggesting that the definition needs to be an evolving standard that increases over time, which is in contrast to the current FCC definition; it has not changed in nine years. “We have always been limited by the FCC’s inadequate and flawed data,” he said.

Steve Largent of the CTIA, which represents wireless telephone companies, suggested that the FCC keep the current threshold at 200Kbps but provide more granularity so that users can see exactly which speed tiers are available in their neighborhoods. He asked that the FCC’s upcoming 700 MHz auction occur on schedule.

The representatives appeared most interested in the testimony of Brian Mefford (pdf), CEO of ConnectKentucky. ConnectKentucky is a public/private partnership that has boosted broadband availability from 60 percent to more than 90 percent in just two and a half years and used mapping techniques to identify current gaps in service. Once those were discovered, the group helped to create a regulatory environment that encouraged private investment, even in rural areas. 80 percent of the funding came from state and federal government agencies, while 20 percent was put up by the companies involved.

By the end of this year, 100 percent of Kentucky homes should be able to access broadband of at least 768Kbps.

No such public/private partnership exists on the national level, but Markey and others appeared greatly interested in Mefford’s testimony, suggesting that a similar scheme could be introduced to Congress in the future.

The FCC, the whipping boy at the hearing, has heard enough of the criticism that it has started to take a hard look at its data collection policy, but major changes have yet to be introduced.

The United States is 15th in the world in broadband penetration, says FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. When the ITU measured a broader “digital opportunity” index (considering price and other factors) , we were 21st — right after Estonia.

“Asian and European customers get home connections of 25 to 100 megabits per second (fast enough to stream high-definition video). Here, we pay almost twice as much for connections that are one-twentieth the speed,” said Copps in a Washington Post editorial.

Australia-based Market Clarity has their own take on global broadband penetration (pdf), believing the ITU statistics are not particularly accurate.

Connected Nation is Kentucky’s plan to address the broadband challenges facing the United States. It’s the parent company of ConnectKentucky, the Kentucky-based organization that has served as the “demonstration project” for state-enabled broadband initiatives.

To create the broadband inventory maps, data are collected from all providers and account for service availability, based on technology type. For example, fixed wireless mapping
utilizes a number of variables as inputs to produce propagation maps based on terrain, ground clutter, etc.

Local “eCommunity Leadership Teams” create local technology strategies across multiple sectors including: local government, business and industry, education, healthcare, agriculture, tourism, libraries, and community-based organizations. The local teams generate and aggregate demand by identifying ways to better leverage technology in local communities.

Three planned statewide broadand wireless networks in the United States include the states of South Carolina (31,000 square miles), Vermont (9,249 square miles), and Rhode Island (1,044 square miles).

Related DailyWireless articles include; Wireless Houston: Size Queen?, Statewide/Nationwide Wireless Broadband, State-wide Wireless Broadband Access, South Carolina Proposes Statewide Free Wireless, Rural Broadband Dying, and Statewide Wimax in Rhode Island.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, May 18th, 2007 at 6:22 am .

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