Category Archives: Connect Kentucky

FCC Releases Broadband Data Order For Census-Tract Data

By Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 15 – In an effort to increase the data that the Federal Communications Commission has available as it designs broadband policies, on Thursday the FCC ordered broadband providers to provide the agency with more detailed information.

For the past eight years, broadband providers had to provide the FCC with semi-annual information about the number of subscribers that they have in each ZIP code. Now, they will need to provide the number of subscribers in each Census tract, too.

In a last-minute change sought by AT&T and the non-profit group Free Press, the FCC decided to also require broadband carriers to separate out the number of business from residential customers.

Additionally, under a new form created by the broadband data order, carriers must also say how many of their subscribers within each Census tract fit into each of eight separate speed tiers.

The tiers are as follows:

(1) greater than 200 kbps but less than 768 kbps; (2) equal to or greater than 768 kbps but less than 1.5 mbps; (3) equal to or greater than 1.5 mbps but less than 3.0 mbps; (4) equal to or greater than 3.0 mbps but less than 6.0 mbps, (5) equal to or greater than 6.0 mbps but less than 10.0 mbps; (6) equal to or greater than 10.0 mbps but less than 25.0 mbps; (7) equal to or greater than 25.0 mbps but less than 100.0 mbps; and (8) equal to or greater than 100 mbps.

Data about the numbers of subscribers in each ZIP code is kept by the agency and has not been released to the public. Additionally, the FCC does not release the names of which carriers offer broadband service within a particular ZIP code.

The orders released by the FCC on Thursday make no changes to existing rules regarding the confidentiality of this data.

However, the broadband data order does initiate a new proceeding whereby the FCC will consider how it should voluntarily collect additional broadband data, including data about customer Internet speeds. The agency says it is doing this so that it may propose “a national broadband availability mapping program.” It says it wants to consider confidentially rules for such additional data.

The FCC has been under growing pressure for years to collect more comprehensive information about broadband. A variety of public and private initiatives have been launched seeking access to more granular broadband data, including efforts by the California Broadband Task Force, ConnectKentucky, and this publication, BroadbandCensus.com.

Additionally, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed by the Center for Public Integrity, sought the names of broadband providers offering service within each ZIP code. A federal district court judge denied the effort in October 2007.

And at least three pieces of federal legislation seek better data from the FCC and other communications agencies: the “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, introduced by Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, the “Connect the Nation Act,” S. 1190, by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Markey’s bill has passed the House of Representatives; neither of the Senate measures has passed the chamber.

The broadband order had been pending nearly three months at the communications agency. It was relased together with a separate order modifying its original one. The FCC voted to enhance the reporting details on March 19, but hadn’t required broadband carriers to separate out the number of business from residential customers.

FCC Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein applauded the change to separate out business and residential reporting.

“Without this fundamental change, the usefulness of the improvements that we made in March would have been severely compromised,” Adelstein said in a Thursday statement released with the revised order. “By now distinguishing between residential and business customers at a more granular level, we will be much better positioned to understand the factors that affect broadband adoption,” he said.

URL for this article: http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=35

Organizations and Topics Mentioned in this Article:

Editor’s Note:

BroadbandCensus.com has been closely following the data collection issue. We will issue a statement reacting to the FCC’s order later today.

-Drew Clark, Editor, BroadbandCensus.com

Want Better Broadband in America? Take the Broadband Census!

Note: I guest-blogged this morning at the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet:

By Drew Clark

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.

What can be done to Build a Broadband Strategy for America? That’s what we’ll be talking about on Tuesday, March 4, during the Keynote Luncheon at the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet’s 2008 Politics Online conference. Read about the star-studded panel that I’ll be moderating. You can also read my previous blog post on why divergent parties do seem to be coalescing around a National Broadband Strategy.

As a technology reporter, I’ve been writing about the battles over broadband for nearly a decade here in Washington. There is one fact about which nearly everyone seems to be in agreement: if America wants better broadband, America need better broadband data. That’s why I’ve recently started a new venture to collect this broadband data, and to make the data available for all on the Web at BroadbandCensus.com.

Take the Broadband Census!

BroadbandCensus.com is designed to help Internet users measure and understand information about the availability, competition, speeds and prices of broadband within their areas.

When you go the BroadbandCensus.com Web site, you’ll type in your ZIP code. You’ll find out how many broadband providers the Federal Communications Commission says are available in your area. You can compare that number to your own sense of the competitive landscape. And now, with BroadbandCensus.com, you can help others understand the true state of broadband competition.

You can Take the Broadband Census by answering a short questionnaire on the site. Your answers will create linkages between a broadband provider and the ZIP codes in which they offer service. You can compare your notes about your service with the experience of other Internet users in your neighborhood.

This idea is by no means original. In recent years, more and more people have been urging the FCC to collect more detailed information about broadband – and to make more of that information publicly available.

Consider several pieces of legislation in Congress. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, has introduced legislation that would provide the public with better broadband information. Markey’s “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, has passed the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate.

In addition to providing money for state initiatives to map out broadband, the Broadband Census of America Act also calls for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to create publicly-available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.”

In the Senate, the current version of the farm bill, H.R. 4212, includes Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin’s “Connect the Nation Act,” S. 1190. Durbin’s bill would authorize $40 million a year, for five years, to state efforts to map out broadband inventory on the census block level. The “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, takes a similar approach. The goal is, in the identical language of both bills, to “identify and track the availability and adoption of broadband services within each State.”

Going Beyond Broadband Availability – to Broadband Competition, Speeds and Prices

These broadband data bills have been inspired by a growing movement in the states to map out broadband availability within their territories. This effort began with Connect Kentucky, a non-profit initiative designed to compile statistics about regional broadband deployment. In partnership with Bell companies and cable operators, Connect Kentucky identified gaps in coverage and underserved areas. Read about how the group has created a detailed map of broadband availability. It is now replicating its efforts in Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Connect Kentucky has spawned an entire movement – Connected Nation – which aims to map out broadband availability. Other groups unconnected to Connected Nation are engaged in similar mapping efforts, including the California Broadband Initiative and Massachusetts Broadband Initiative.

Knowing where broadband is and isn’t available is, indeed, the first step toward making sure that broadband truly is accessible to all Americans. But the next steps are broadband competition, broadband speeds and broadband prices. Filling out the rest of this picture is the goal of BroadbandCensus.com.

BroadbandCensus.com includes the names of the carriers offering service in each local area. Using the carrier name as a key, a consumer can rate and rank her broadband providers based on speeds and service. (We’ll be including pricing information in the future, too.) By rating their service quality, Broadband Census Takers and Broadband Census Users will be able to make true head-to-head comparisons. BroadbandCensus.com believes that meaningful information about customer service plans is an essential part of understanding broadband.

And judging by last week’s hearing of the Federal Communications Commission in Cambridge, Mass., it looks like this is principle with which everyone can agree. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said that broadband providers needed to be transparent with their customers about the speeds, prices and terms of service at which they offer broadband. Speaking at the hearing, Professor Tim Wu (a panelist at Tuesday’s keynote discussion), Professor Christopher Yoo, and Verizon Communications Executive Vice President Tom Tauke all agreed.

Keeping Tabs on Broadband Speeds and Service Plan Information

At BroadbandCensus.com, we’re going forward with the next step: last week we launched a beta version of an Internet speed test. It is called the NDT, or the Network Diagnostic Tool. The NDT is under active development by the Internet2 community, an advanced networking consortium led by the research and education community. The NDT has been used by other broadband mapping endeavors, including the eCorridors Program at Virginia Tech, which is working to collect data of residential and small business broadband trends throughout the state of Virginia.

Additionally, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has contracted with BroadbandCensus.com to gather anonymized information about users’ broadband experiences on the web site, and to incorporate those findings into Pew’s 2008 annual broadband report. BroadbandCensus.com is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License. That means that the content on the site is available for all to view, copy, redistribute and reuse for free, providing that attribution is provided to BroadbandCensus.com, and that such use is done for non-commercial purposes.

But the Broadband Census will only succeed if you and I go online and Take the Broadband Census! And don’t be shy in letting me know what you think! You can e-mail me at: drew at broadbandcensus.com.

Connect Kentucky Article Raises Bell Lobby Specter

By Drew Clark

Art Brodsky’s 4,789-word article about Connect Kentucky and its offspring Connected Nation has been the talk of telecom circles over the past week.

Connected Nation is a non-profit entity that has become one of biggest players in the currently topical field of broadband data. Using their work in Kentucky as a model for mapping out broadband availability nation-wide, the group has become a driving force behind legislation that would provide grants for other states to duplicate these efforts.

Examples of legislation following the Connect Kentucky model are the Senate version of the current farm bill, H.R. 4212, which includes Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin’s “Connect the Nation Act,” S. 1190. Durbin’s bill would authorize $40 million a year, for five years, to state efforts to map out broadband inventory on the census block level.

The “Broadband Data Improvement Act,” S. 1492, by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, takes a similar approach. The goal is, in the identical language of both bills, to “identify and track the availability and adoption of broadband services within each State.”

The House-passed “Broadband Census of America Act” by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., takes a slightly different approach. H.R. 3919 authorizes $20 million a year, for three years, for similar state initiatives. The crucial difference is that Markey’s bill also calls for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to create publicly-available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.”

The underlying premise behind all of these bills, and behind the image that Connected Nation presents, is that mapping out the availability of high-speed Internet access throughout the country would help policy-makers, business actors and consumers to better tap into the benefits of broadband.

This is a subject of great interest to me personally. Those of you who read my blog, DrewClark.com, know that I am working on a project that seeks to make more broadband data publicly available. I hope to able to announce the project’s launch by the end of this January.

The Advocacy Agenda of Connect Kentucky

Brodsky’s piece brings several of issues pertaining to broadband mapping and broadband data to the forefront right now.

Brodsky highlights the role that the Bell telecommunications companies have played in Connect Kentucky. Bell companies, like the former BellSouth (which is now part of AT&T), as well as other corporations and state government agencies, have financially supported Connect Kentucky. So have cable companies in Kentucky, as well as technology companies.

In sum, Brodsky’s thesis is as follows:

Connect Kentucky is nothing more than a sales force and front group for AT&T paid for by the telecommunications industry and by state and federal governments that has achieved far more in publicity than it has in actual accomplishment. Connect helps to promote AT&T services, while lobbying at the state capitol for the deregulation legislation the telephone company wants.

To this end, Brodsky cites the apparent support that Connect Kentucky played in the passage of House Bill 337 in Kentucky on April 22, 2006. As with other video franchising bills promoted by Bell companies in other states, House Bill 337 allowed the Bell companies to get into the pay television marketplace in Kentucky without having to obtain franchises from municipalities across the state. According Brodsky’s article, Connect Kentucky on May 17, 2006, said this about the bill:

The bill allows telephone providers to compete on an even playing field with unregulated phone, cable and Internet providers. The end result is that telecom companies, freed from the burden of regulation, now have an environment that is more conducive to investment in rural broadband deployment.

In Congress, the 2006 debate over legislation creating a nationwide video franchise became political, and politically divisive, when Net Neutrality became a part of the equation. Bell companies were able to achieve much of the same result, on a piecemeal basis, through state legislation in 2005 and 2006.

Supporters and Critics Weigh In on Brodsky’s Piece

Bell critics have chimed in on Brodsky’s piece. Matt Stoller argues that “Connect Kentucky also uses government funds to lobby aggressively for anti-consumer legislation, and is spreading to a bunch of different states as well as making its way into [Hillary] Clinton’s technology plan.”

Commentator kyisp, in the comments section of the Public Knowledge blog, where Brodsky’s article appeared, says that “Connect Kentucky is trying to legitimize AT&T’s position. It’s one thing when the big bad corporation says something but when a ‘nonprofit’ says it the general public tends to think it’s an objective point of view.”

Brodsky’s piece also takes issue with Connect Kentucky’s claim that nearly 90 percent of the state now has access to broadband. These claims of broadband progress that have been lavishly praised by Republicans and Democrats, and generated great publicity for the organization, such as this article in The Economist last year.

Brodsky contrasts the testimony of Connect Kentucky CEO Brian Mefford, before the Senate Commerce Committee on April 24, 2007, that Kentucky is on track “to be the first state with 100 percent broadband coverage,” with Leichtman Research Group data showing that, at the beginning of 2007, Kentucky was 46th of the 51 states and Washington, D.C., in residential broadband penetration.

Or in other words, adds Karl Bode at DSL Reports: “what’s being praised by politicians and the major phone providers as a plan to improve broadband penetration, is actually now a lobbying consortium tasked with presenting the illusion that broadband penetration is doing well – on the taxpayer dime.”

Mefford, and other Connect Kentucky supporters, question Brodsky’s article. In a post on the Web site of Save Access, Mefford called the article a form of “cowardice, choosing to sacrifice fact for a biased version of the truth.” He said that contributions from BellSouth/AT&T have been less than one-half of one percent of Connect Kentucky’s annual revenues, and takes issue with many points from the article.

Robert Atkinson, of the Information Technology and Information Foundation, was also harsh. Atkinson called the article “yellow journalism” and “attack by innuendo.” He said Connect Kentucky has gotten the vast bulk of its funding from state and federal governments, and not from Bell companies. He also said that if Connect Kentucky is truly a “sales force” for AT&T and its DSL broadband service, why would the Kentucky cable association and Comcast also be supporters?

What Connect Kentucky Does – And Doesn’t – Do

For me, the oddest aspect about the debate over the Bell companies and their relationship to Connect Kentucky is not about what Connect Kentucky does do. It is about what Connect Kentucky doesn’t do.

For example, Brodsky’s criticisms aside, Connect Kentucky has indeed done a thorough job of mapping about the availability of broadband within Kentucky. The mapping page on the Connect Kentucky Web site features a highly detailed inventory of where broadband is and isn’t within the state. The model is to figure out the parts of the state are not served, and the parts are underserved, in the hope that either the Bells – or competitors – will step in to the breach. That model has now been exported now to Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio.

What Connect Kentucky doesn’t do, or at least doesn’t advertise doing, is measuring competition in the broadband marketplace. Knowing where broadband is available and where it isn’t available is only the first step in our nation’s broadband quotient. Knowing where broadband competition is available, and who the competitors are, is the crucial next step.

Connect Kentucky and Connected Nation don’t speak much, if at all, about this aspect of broadband mapping. In fact, the Durbin and Inouye bills sidestep this challenge completely. Ed Markey’s “Broadband Census of America Act,” by contrast, clearly states that local information about broadband competitors will be made available to the public. It appears that the Connected Nation approach to broadband mapping, as articulated in the Durbin and Inouye bills, doesn’t contemplate public access to or knowledge about the companies that provide broadband within a given area.

But in Kentucky, at least, Connect Kentucky does provides an interactive map that allows an individual to type in an address, inquire about broadband availability and identify actual broadband provider. Having been involved in several efforts to quantify broadband adoption, availability and competition, I find it a pretty complete list.

The odd fact about Connect Kentucky isn’t that Bell companies support the group. Nor is it that they appear to support legislation of the sort introduced by Sens. Durbin and Inouye, and also Rep. Markey’s bill. The disconnect is that same Bell companies that say they support both Connect Kentucky and broadband mapping legislation have simultaneously fought off others who seek to publicize the extent of the Bell carriers’ broadband reach.

On this issue, it is truly perplexing to know on which side the Bell companies stand. But for all the controversy over Connect Kentucky, it is better that the Bell companies say that they want to take a census of our nation’s broadband. That, at least, is the first step in actually getting there.