FCC Seeks More Broadband Data

Before America can have policies to make it among the world leaders in broadband deployment, it needs to know who’s online and what kind of connections they have.

So, the FCC March 19 said it would increase the precision and quality of broadband subscribership data collected every six months from broadband services providers.

Under the order, the commission will expand the number of broadband reporting speed tiers to capture more precise information about upload and download broadband speeds in the marketplace; require broadband providers to report numbers of broadband subscribers by Census Tract, broken down by speed tier and technology type; and improve the accuracy of information the commission gathers about mobile wireless broadband deployment.

Broadband providers will have to classify their subscribers in one of five data rates—first generation (200 kbps to 768 kbps), basic broadband (768 kbps to 1.5 Mbps) and three other tiers: 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps, 3 Mbps to 6 Mbps, and 6 Mbps and above.

The FCC also seeks comment on broadband service pricing and availability.

The commission also reported that broadband services “are currently being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Chairman Kevin J. Martin touted the commission’s accomplishments in getting there. “We have removed regulatory obstacles that discouraged infrastructure investment and slowed deployment,” Martin said. “We have classified DSL, BPL and Wireless broadband as ‘information services’ not subject to legacy regulations. We have streamlined the franchise process for new entrants and incumbent cable providers and banned exclusive contracts in apartment buildings to spur competition that is essential to further investment in underlying infrastructure for broadband. ... We have also just completed the largest auction in FCC history of spectrum that is ideally suited to broadband.”

Citing the commission’s report to Congress on the matter, Martin said during the first half of 2007, high speed lines increased by 22 percent, from over 82 million to over 100 million, up from just 9 million when Martin joined the commission in July 2001. More than 99 percent of the country lives in the more than 99 percent of ZIP Codes with at least some high-speed service. High-speed DSL connections are available to 82 percent of the households to whom ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers) provide local phone service (as of June 2007). High-speed cable modem service was available to 96 percent of the households with cable TV access.

Democratic Commission Michael J. Copps said the datagathering plan came far too late.

“Good data, as you quickly learn serving at the FCC, is the bedrock of good policy. And creating good data is really a core function of government,” Copps said. “It has therefore been with great disappointment that I have watched the FCC fail year after year to get serious about gathering high-quality U.S. broadband data ... It is truly shocking that we still rely on an absurdly dated definition of broadband speed and a five-digit ZIP code methodology that didn’t pass the red face test even when we introduced it many years ago.”

“This report fails to admit that while we have improved, other countries have improved at a faster rate, so we are actually falling behind,” said Democratic Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein.