Category Archives: broadband

Broadband Stimulus and Broadband Data

I just posted a piece about the role of states in the broadband stimulus package at BroadbandCensus.com

Broadband Stimulus Package Should Include Funding for State Data, Says Massachusetts

News

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, January 2, 2009 – Congress and the incoming administration of President Obama should include broadband-related investment in the pending legislation designed to promote economic stimulus, and the federal government needs to begin with better data about broadband availability, said a top Massachusetts government official.

[more…]

BroadbandCensus.com Joins with One Web Day: Learn About Your Internet Options and Take the Census

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, August 19 – BroadbandCensus.com is pleased to support One Web Day, and I am very happy to be an Ambassador for this effort.

Most Americans who have high-speed internet can’t imagine life without broadband. How could you connect to the Internet of today without it? In today’s world, broadband is as basic as running water and electricity. And yet the U.S. is falling behind globally.

As a technology reporter, I’ve been writing about the battles over broadband and the Internet for more than a decade here in Washington. Yet there is one fact about which nearly everyone seems to be in agreement: if America wants better broadband, America needs better broadband data.

That’s why I’ve recently started a new venture to collect this broadband data, and to make this data freely available for all on the Web at http://BroadbandCensus.com.

One Web Day presents an opportunity for all of us to take stock with the true state of broadband in this country. BroadbandCensus.com wants to work with each of you to help us “crowdsource” the data we need to get a better handle on availability, competition, speeds, prices, and quality of service of local broadband.

What is BroadbandCensus.com?

When an Internet user goes to the BroadbandCensus.com web site, he or she types in a ZIP code. By doing so, the consumer will find out how many broadband providers the FCC says are available. The consumer can compare that number to his or her own sense of the competitive landscape, as well as the names of the carriers published by BroadbandCensus.com.

The site then invites visitors to Take the Broadband Census! This is a short questionnaire, and it is followed by a free internet speed test. Each consumer that takes the census puts in their ZIP code, or their ZIP+4 code, selects their broadband carrier from a drop-down menu, and rates that company’s performance on a scale of one to five stars.

The consumer then has the opportunity to add their own comments about the carrier. They may then take a bandwidth speed test. Each of these steps adds data into BroadbandCensus.com. That means that the next visitor to the web site will be better informed about the availability, competition, speeds and customer service of their local broadband options. It also produces a free database of consumer data about more than 1,600 broadband carriers in the U.S.

How is BroadbandCensus.com Different?

There are other efforts out there to understand broadband data. The FCC requires every broadband carrier to provide information about the areas in the ZIP codes in which they offer service through something called the Form 477. The agency recently announced that it will now require that this data be collected by census tracts, which is a slightly smaller geographical unit. Unfortunately, the FCC refuses to share the information about WHO is providing service WHERE. That leaves it for me and you to piece together this puzzle through various sources of information on BroadbandCensus.com.

And there are other ventures out there, such as Connected Nation, Inc., which has teamed up with Bell and cable companies – and with the governments of Kentucky and other states – and which is mapping out statewide broadband availability.

BroadbandCensus.com seeks to identify the broadband carriers’ actual service areas. That way the carriers can be held accountable for the areas of town that they are serving, the speeds at which they are providing service, and – of course – the areas that they are not serving.

Not only is better broadband data important for policy-makers and for potential new market entrants, it is also vital for consumers. Particularly as carriers begin their efforts to meter out bandwidth in tiers, and to implement usage caps, the efforts of a consumer-focused service like BroadbandCensus.com are all the more critical.

Understanding Broadband Options on a State-by-State Basis

BraodbandCensus.com launched on January 31, 2008. We released the beta version of speed test (we use the open-source Network Diagnostic Tool of Internet2) soon afterwards, and have collected thousands of census results and speed queries.

Starting with a core group of supporters, including the Benton Foundation, the Network Policy Council of EDUCAUSE, Internet2, the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors Program, and now the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), BroadbandCensus.com has sought attention and publicity through word of mouth. We want as many people as possible to visit and use the site.

Now, we are taking the next step by conducting a Broadband Census of the States. We have begun a series of state-by-state articles profiling the broadband policies, broadband build-out and broadband data in each of the United States and its territories. As we’ve strengthened our knowledge of and ties to individual states, we’re tapping into a whole news source of broadband information. For example, because of the data available from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we’ve been able to identify each of the carriers offering service at the ZIP-code level in that state.

We will add new profiles to the collection between now and One Web Day. And on this day – September 22, 2008 – we plan to release the complete collection into the One Web Day ‘Time Capsule.’ Equally important, each of you will be able to add your research and knowledge about the state of broadband in the states through your comments and additions to each of these more than 50 profiles.

Using ‘One Web Week’ to Change the Debate over Broadband Data

The momentum that you have helped to create behind BroadbandCensus.com has put us at the center of the debate about internet data. We are building from this marvelous opportunity as we seek an open and public broadband census. On Monday, September 22, One Web Day will help draw further attention to these efforts. We aim to continue the effort throughout the week – until Friday, September 26 – and beyond.

Earlier this month we announced “Broadband Census for America,” a conference that will be held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC, on September 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. More details about the conference, the program committee and pricing is available here.

“Broadband Census for America” will be sponsored by BroadbandCensus.com, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert S. Strauss Center and Virginia Tech’s eCorridors program. A member of the Embassy of Ireland has confirmed his participation as a keynote speaker. He will inform an American audience of academics, state officials and telecom policy advocates about how the Irish have done their broadband census. Hint: see http://broadband.gov.ie. We urge you to consider attending.

I hope you are wondering what you can do to help this effort. If you are, we’ve got three requests for you on our “Get Involved” page:

  • Take the Broadband Census and Speed Test
  • Grab a Button for Your Blog
  • Join one of BroadbandCensus.com’s Committees

Also, if you would like to blog about broadband, and about broadband data, on BroadbandCensus.com, please feel free to drop me an e-mail: drew at broadbandcensus.com. We’d be more than happy to include bloggers for BroadbandCensus.com!

We look forward to working with all of your in the run-up to One Web Week, and helping all of us to better understand the true state of broadband competition in our communities, our states, our country and our world.

URL: http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=465 

Broadband Census in the States:

Broadband Census Resources:

‘Broadband Census for America’ Conference:

Announcing a Half-Day Conference About Universal Broadband Data on September 26, 2008

One Web Day:

See this post on the One Web Day web site (August 19, 2008)

OneWebDay

Telecom and Transportation Should Be Focus of Infrastructure Investments, Says Think Tank

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 28 – By combining better public information, market mechanisms and smarter systems of subsidization, the government can play a positive role in funding infrastructure investments in telecommunications, according to three reports released Friday by the Brookings Institution.

The papers, released on Friday at an event that also featured an address by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, are part of a Brookings Institution initiative promoting investments in infrastructure – both physical, transportation investments, as well as new ways to spur improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure.

“No economy improves with a declining infrastructure,” said Kaine, a Democrat. “Unless you make that high-tech investment easy by telecom access, you won’t get” improvements in your state’s economic condition, he said.

Brookings, a liberal-leaning think tank, released the reports as part of an initiative dubbed the “Hamilton Project.” The project seeks to put forward policy ideas that “embrac[e] a role for effective government in making needed public investments,” according to the think tank.

Read the complete story at BroadbandCensus.com 

CWA Wants Better Broadband Data, As Does Internet for Everyone

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 17 – Communications Workers of America this past week teamed up with a group of telecommunications companies, cable operators and non-profit groups to push for Congress to pass broadband data legislation.

In a Friday letter and a Monday press release, the groups wrote “to express [their] strong support for Congressional action to promote greater availability and adoption of broadband high-speed Internet services.”

They want “a national policy” to encourage more broadband deployment, and they cite economic statistics about broadband’s potential.

And, as a first step, these companies and CWA want Congress to pass the Broadband Census of America Act, H.R. 3919, or the Broadband Data Improvement Act, S. 1492.

Curiously, last month another large coalition announced a similar campaign. They call themselves Internet for Everyone.

Continue reading “CWA Wants Better Broadband Data, As Does Internet for Everyone

Broadband Internet Adoption Stalls, Regresses for Poor, Says Pew Report

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, July 2 – Broadband growth in the United States has effectively stalled over the past five months, a possible victim of the economic slowdown, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Some 55 percent of all adult Americans now have a high-speed internet connection, or a broadband connection, in their home, according to the report, “Home Broadband Adoption 2008.”

That number compares with 47 percent of adult Americans with broadband in early 2007, and 54 percent in December 2007. Hence broadband growth over the previous 12 or 13 months has dramatically tapered off.

The growth rate in broadband adoption from 2007 to 2008 was 17 percent. That compares favorably to the 12 percent growth recorded in the 2006 to 2007 timeframe, according to Pew’s annual studies in 2007 and 2008.

Yet for poor Americans, as well as African Americans, broadband adoption was slow or negative.

Among adults living in households with annual incomes of less than $20,000 annually, broadband adoption has actually regressed: the percentage dropped from 28 percent in March 2007 to 25 percent in April/May 2008, said the report.

Among African Americans, home broadband adoption stood at 43 percent in May 2008, versus 40 percent the previous year.

“The flat growth in home high-speed adoption for low-income Americans suggests that tightening household budges may be affecting people’s choice of connection speed at home,” said John Horrigan, associate director of research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project and author of the report.

“Broadband is more costly on a monthly basis than dial-up, and some lower income Americans may be unwilling to take on another expense,” said Horrigan.

Pew’s annual report has become the respected benchmark for understanding broadband adoption within the United States.

Looking over the past year, three groups did experience relatively strong growth in broadband adoption from 2007 to 2008:

  • Older Americans: Those aged 50 and above experienced a 26 percent growth rate in broadband from 2007 to 2008.
  • Lower-middle income Americans: Those with household incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 annually saw broadband penetration grow by 24 percent over the same period.
  • Rural Americans: Among those who live in rural areas, 38 percent have broadband at home now, versus 31 percent a year ago, or a growth rate of 23 percent over the same period.

The Pew report identifies a number of other trends: including the fact that broadband prices have only dropped four percent over the past two-and-a-half years, that affordability (or the lack thereof) is having an impact on broadband adoption, and that wireless technologies may be poised to play a larger role in making broadband more widely available in the home.

Broadband users reported paying $34.50 a month for high-speed internet services in April 2008, versus $36 a month in December 2005 — a four percent decline. Cable modem users reported paying an average of $37 a month (versus $41 in 2005), while Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) users reported paying $31.50 a month (versus $32 in 2005).

Dial-up users, who now constitute just 10 percent of American adults who go online, now cite price as the key reason for why they do not subscribe to broadband.

Asked, “What would it take to get you to switch to broadband?”, dial-up users said:

35% The prices has to come down/be more affordable/cheaper
19% Nothing will convince me to get broadband
16% Don’t know
11% Other
10% It would have to become available where I live
4% When my cable/telephone company offers it where I live
4% Refused
2% Someone else will pay for it
2% If it was free
0% When my children get older

Note: Total may exceed 100% due to multiple responses.

Source: Q23 in the Spring Tracking Survey 2008 (conducted April 8-May 11, 2008), Princeton Survey Research Associates International) for Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The Pew report also found that fixed wireless services have increased their role in the home broadband marketplace, from next to nothing in 2002 to about 12 percent of home broadband connections. DSL maintains an edge in the marketplace, with 46 percent of broadband users subscribing, versus 39 percent for cable modem service. And the number of fiber optic users finally nudged above negligible, with 2 percent of home users subscribing.

Reports and Documents Referenced in this Article:

Editor’s Note:

BroadbandCensus.com continues to work with the Pew Internet & American Life Project on a report about the connection speeds whereby Americans access the Internet. This report, to be released later this summer, will include the first set of preliminary data about internet speeds obtained by BroadbandCensus.com.

Launched in January 2008, BroadbandCensus.com began running a beta version of an internet speed test on February 21. We invite you to take the Broadband Census and compare your internet speed with those of others.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has been a supporter of BroadbandCensus.com, and has contracted with BroadbandCensus.com to gather information about users’ broadband experiences and to incorporate those findings into a Pew report on broadband.

-Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

URL: http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=69

Free Press, Google and Others Form Pro-Broadband Initiative

News from the Personal Democracy Forum in New York:

By Drew Bennett, Special Correspondent, BroadbandCensus.com

NEW YORK, June 24 – A group of non-profits, businesses and others organizations seeking to guide the creation of a national broadband plan on Tuesday announced the formation of a new initiative, “Internet for Everyone,” seeking the highlight the crucial importance of broadband.

The initiative, which was officially launched at a breakout room in the Lincoln Center here, where the Personal Democracy Forum was being held, gathering internet luminaries including Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig; Vint Cerf, chief technology evangelist at Google, Tim Wu, Columbia University law professor and Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press.

[...] Continue Reading “Free Press, Google and Others Form Pro-Broadband Initiative” at BroadbandCensus.com

Google, the NAB, and a Third Way in ‘White Spaces’ Debate

By Drew Clark

Google co-founder Larry Page came to Washington last week to take on the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the lobbying group that represents over-the-air television stations. It’s a whole new adversary for the beleaguered broadcasters, who have been fighting cable and satellite television for years.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering a proposal, by Google and other tech players. It would allow tech companies to build electronic devices that transmit wireless internet signals over the “white spaces,” or the vacant holes in the broadcast television band.

“We have an ambitious goal called pervasive connectivity through ubiquitous broadband networks,” said Page, who is currently co-president of Web search giant Google, and the world’s 43rd richest man, according to Forbes. “To realize that vision, we need to change the way we allocate and manage the nation’s airwaves.”

Basically, Google wants the right to broadcast where the broadcasters aren’t doing so right now. And there are a lot of vacant channels to take advantage of, potentially offering a boon to the broadband-hungry technology industry.

Is the Radio Frequency Cop Missing in Action?

Why has the FCC, arguably the cop over both the broadcasting and broadband beats, allowed TV broadcasters to waste the nation’s choicest electromagnetic frequencies? Answering that question would take a detour in the spectrum politics of your grandfather’s generation. Broadcast television frequencies were allocated in 1952, under technological conditions far different than today.

Fears of interference kept stations far, far, apart on the television dial. That’s why even today, if you live in Washington, DC, no more than four of the 21 channels between 30 and 50 are occupied: 32, 45, 47 and 50. That leaves 17 available as white spaces. The channel numbers vary from city to city, and will likely change with the transition to digital television (DTV). Still, a lot of unused real estate is and will remain vacant in the sky.

Google’s solution: the FCC should give the industry permission to build smart electronic devices that will observe their own geographic location, and then offer connections to the Internet only when such transmissions would not interfere with television broadcasts.

Doing this “makes a lot of sense,” and would put the nation on “a path where we are using 99 percent of our spectrum, rather than three percent,” Page said at the event, titled “Google Unwired” and hosted by the New America Foundation, which has strong ties to Google.

It is a technologically trivial task to make a device with a global positioning system (GPS), or that senses its radio-frequency environment before transmitting. These devices would guard against interference better than wireless microphones currently do, he said.

Can the White Spaces Genie Be Put Back in the Bottle?

For their part, broadcasters say that white spaces transmissions will interfere with your grandmother’s television reception. “At least three times, the tests that have been submitted by the proponents of wireless devices have either failed or malfunctioned,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the NAB. “Failure is not an option when we are talking about the future of DTV.”

Further, Wharton said, “once you have introduced hundreds of thousands, or even millions of devices and they fail, or start causing interference, how do you put the genie back in the bottle?”

As the lobbying battle has heated up, both the manufacturers of professional wireless microphones – like Shure – and the major sports leagues have joined with the NAB to try to stop the smart devices.

Page calls the broadcasters’ engineering claims “very much an imaged and created fiction.” He added, “The NAB has also, in the past, complained about satellite broadcasting causing interference. People pay attention to [the NAB, but] that doesn’t mean that it is true.”

The big problem at the heart of the white spaces debate is political: broadcasters have long been reputed to be a major lobbying force in Washington. But their alleged prowess didn’t stop Congress from wresting a quarter of the broadcasters’ frequencies away from them in Spectrum War I.

Why Are Broadcasting and Wireless Services Treated So Differently?

This brings us to another side – a Third Way, if you will – in the white spaces debate. Instead of turning the white spaces into yet another political football between competing lobbyists, why doesn’t the government put these frequencies up for sale? It’s the kind of idea that you would think a warm-hearted capitalist company like Google would love.

Television spectrum is indeed a very valuable resource – for certain purposes. Broadcasters currently occupy 402 Megahertz (MHz) of it, at frequencies ranging from 54 MHz to 806 MHz. That means that NAB members are sitting on about 40 percent of the choicest frequencies below 1 Gigahertz (1 GHz). These are the frequencies that are powerful enough to pass through walls, trees and high-rise buildings. (They are giving up 108 of those Megahertz in the transition to DTV, and earlier this year the FCC auctioned off 60 of those Megahertz for $19.5 billion. Most of the rest is being devoted for public safety communications.)

Broadcasters obtained the right to use all these frequencies for free in the pre-Eisenhower era. Cellular telephone companies, arriving in the Reagan through Clinton eras, paid good money at government auctions to buy and reuse other, less desirable frequencies in the 1.8 GHz range. And somewhere along the way to the 21st Century, geeks and techies deploying new-fangled devices like low-powered wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) transmitters got FCC permission, on a free or unlicensed basis, to use the frequencies at 2.4 GHz at 5.8 GHz.

Broadcasters may be spectrum-rich, but they make very poor use of their frequencies. Less than 13 percent of American households watch television over-the-air; the vast bulk instead choose to subscribe to cable or satellite television instead. Wireless companies, by contrast, constantly use and reuse their frequencies. Wi-Fi presents a mixed bag: anyone who transmits at low power may use it, but overcrowding and other constraints can cause service to be spotty.

So what is the best model for deploying spectrum? There is currently a lively debate going on in academic circles about just this subject at the Information Economy Project at George Mason University School of Law. In the debate, Professor Thomas Hazlett of George Mason favors a property rights approach, while Professors Phil Weiser and Dale Hatfield, of the University of Colorado, reject the analogy of radio spectrum to land. (Disclosure: I serve as Assistant Director of the Information Economy Project, where I work with Law & Economics Professor Thomas Hazlett, who directs the project.)

While the spectrum-as-property-rights debate has implications for the white spaces debate, both sides agree that broadcasters under-utilize their spectrum. That was one part of the message conveyed by Page at the New America Foundation event.

Can a Third Way Satisfy Google and the NAB?

So does that mean that Google is right, and that vacant broadcast channels should yield to broadband? It’s important to consider an alternative – auctioning off at least a portion of the white space. The effort to do this has been promoted by CTIA, the wireless association, in March 2008. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin may be open to it.

I first heard about a variant of this proposal more than a year ago, from Tom Hazlett, at the May 2007 Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy, in Queenstown, Maryland. A long-time critic of broadcasters, Hazlett proposed dividing up the remaining 294 Megahertz – after the DTV transition – into six segments of roughly 50 Megahertz a piece. Each slice could be auctioned off, or, as an alternative, cleared for use by unlicensed Wi-Fi style devices. The nut of the proposal is that auction buyers must bargain with incumbent broadcasters to entice them to either exit their broadcasting business, or to keep from interfering with existing broadcasts. (I lay out the spectrum math in this sidebar.)

I was surprised, though, by the reaction that I witnessed to this proposal in Queenstown. Rather than skepticism, a wide variety of the attendees at the Aspen event – the country’s telecom elite – were simultaneously intrigued and even tentatively supportive of what is, after all, a very radical idea: potentially clearing broadcasters entirely off the airwaves.

In an interview, Wharton dismissed the proposal as unrealistic. “Why would we want to exit a business that we think has served the American people quite well?” Further, Wharton said, broadcasters “like being broadcasters, and serving communities, and being a part of communities. We have a broadcast system based on localism and service to community that is the envy of the world.”

However, to my surprise, Wharton was quite open to the CTIA proposal. He said that a licensing system “certainly makes a whole lot more sense than having these devices put into the market without protection.”

More to the point, however, is what Google itself thinks of selling off the white spaces. At the New America event, I asked Page what he thought about clearing broadcasters and auctioning the band. To my surprise, he replied: “I would be open to any of those things. We have proposed some things like that.”

Speaking specifically about auctioning off big blocks of radio frequencies, Page said: “Having a band manager that bought some spectrum, and then wholesale auctioned it would be a very positive thing. That would be a wonderful thing to have happen.” The tougher point, he agreed, would be enticing broadcasters to make changes.

Concluding Questions

Let me conclude this article with a series of questions about these proposals, each aimed at driving the public policy debate on this subject forward:

  1. What would be, in an ideal world, the optimal amount of spectrum to be set aside for public and unlicensed wireless transmission? Should none, one, two or more of the six 50 Megahertz bands be allocated to unlicensed use?
  2. Are there any broadcasters out there who would, if given a legal opportunity, exit the business of over-the-air broadcasting, and turn themselves into, effectively, cable-, satellite-, and Internet-only “broadcasters?”
  3. The value of the broadcasters’ right that cable operators “must carry” broadcasting signals over cable systems is a big subject that has to be addressed. Does the cable industry need to be enticed into a deal, as well? How much is the “must carry” right worth, and how does that stack up against the goal of liberating the broadcast bands for other, and more productive uses?

Don’t forget to read the sidebar on the spectrum math!

Drew Clark is Executive Director of BroadbandCensus.com, a FREE web service with news and information about competition, speeds and prices offered by high-speed internet providers. He can be reached via e-mail: drew at drewclark.com.

FCC Commissioner Praises BroadbandCensus.com

In a speech just released on her Web site, Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate praised BroadbandCensus.com

In the speech (TXT DOC PDF), which was given at the Broadband Properties conference on April 30, 2008, in Dallas, Texas, Tate said:

I also appreciate and encourage private, state and local efforts to enhance the availability of such information.  As one example, the moderator of a previous panel, Drew Clark, has established a new website, BroadbandCensus.com.  This website encourages consumers to input data on which broadband providers serve their particular area, lets them test download and upload speeds, and then makes this data available to other consumers. This is precisely the type of empowerment and education that benefits consumers, often more effectively than government regulations.

I appreciate the attention from FCC Commissioners, including Commissioner Tate!

Bugs in Twitter

I was writing about how Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., had praised FCC Chairman Michael Powell for his articulation of the “four freedoms” of Internet, or his early articulation of Net Neutrality rules. (It got duplicated on Twitter, and then my delete snagged both items. The same duplication happened with Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.)

Pickering went on to claims that current FCC Chairman continues that approach (four freedoms) on Net Neutrality.

Pickering concluded: “We do not want government intervention, regulation, but we want the private sector to take the leadership in preserving an open business model, and that is my purpose for joining with Mr. Markey on this legislation.”