Federal Communications Commission

Tracking broadband data…

February 15th, 2010 by Sharon Gillett

By Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau and Paul de Sa, Chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis

Something that's become increasingly clear as we've been drafting the National Broadband Plan is the need for good data on broadband:  Where is it available? From how many providers? At what speeds?  How many people subscribe?  How robust is the competition? 

We've tried to gather and analyze all the data we can get our hands on, which has made us increasingly aware of the shortcomings of the data historically collected by the Commission. As a result, the Plan will include recommendations on improving FCC data collection, analysis, and reporting going forward. Good data practices will help policymakers meet the Plan's goal of robust broadband access for everyone, as well as giving researchers and consumers more of the information they want.

This brings us to the FCC’s latest report on broadband service, known as the High-Speed Report.  The FCC has published this report twice annually for the past decade, based on data that carriers must submit using Form 477. Released on Friday, the report uses much better data now than in the past, reflecting improvements made by the Commission in 2008.  For example, the Commission now has data on the number of broadband subscribers at a census-tract level (in the past, we only collected state and national numbers). The data also includes a total of 72 different upload and download speed categories, as well as improved information about mobile and residential connections.  

However we recognize that the Form 477 data could still be improved.  To take one example, the current report does not provide sufficient information to assess competition.  The FCC collects its data with a promise of confidentiality for provider-specific data, which requires that the data be aggregated for reporting purposes.  Therefore today, in some of the maps in the Report, a provider is depicted as serving a census tract even if it has only a single customer there or serves only a small portion of a geographically large census tract.  Because of this aggregation, the reported counts of "number of providers" cannot be interpreted as the number of competitors among which consumers can choose their broadband service.  And even if they are available to the same customers, some of the offerings may not effectively compete – consumers may not view 768kbps DSL service as a close substitute for 6 Mbps cable modem service.

Furthermore, in some places in the report, high-speed connections are defined for historical reasons as 200 kbps - not really broadband by any current standard.  Although this threshold has been chosen to be consistent with past reporting practices, it makes some of the report's maps showing ubiquitous coverage overly optimistic.  

Finally, although we will be sharing as much data as we can with state regulators and mapping entities, as well as posting information online for researchers and the public, we recognize that the confidentiality requirements necessary for comprehensive data collection to some extent limit the analyses that third parties may be able to conduct. 

In short, last week’s improved report is a good start, but we look forward to helping the Commission implement the Plan’s recommendations regarding steps the FCC should take to collect, analyze, and disseminate the information necessary to ensure the nation is making progress toward our broadband goals.

5 Responses to “Tracking broadband data…”

  1. Fred says:

    I truly believe this is a great opportunity to imporve this kind of report from the Commission. Indeed the fact that reports don't show any specific information about which company has which amount of customers, and is providing services in which specific areas, is a huge amount of data that would really help improve competitivity, as well publishing a more extended report that also shows which areas are receiving the most high speed services and which the lowest (this would mean to show which areas are able to receive a 6mb broadband services, for real, and which ones are able to receive just 1mb service).
    This last piece of information may also help to check why some areas are not able to receive a higher broadband service and for other carriers in the area to try and develope a way to provide it, so on one more time, increasing competitivity and increasing the market.

  2. Small ISP says:

    If the FCC reveals my company's proprietary data and enables anticompetitive practices by larger companies, what incentive do I have to file Form 477? And if it takes me two man-weeks to fill out the forms, can I afford to do it? To ensure that it's reasonable for ISPs to comply, all data must be kept in strict confidence, and the forms must be simple and not take weeks to fill out.

    Also, if the FCC claims that 200 Kbps isn't "broadband," but won't do anything about overcharges for "special access" lines (which drive the cost of 200 Kbps up to $50 or $60 a month in some areas), whose fault is it when few subscribers in an area are getting "broadband?"

  3. Guest says:

    This is not comforting. Shortly you folks will publish your much anticipated plan. It will influence the Congress, the White House and how scores of commercial and Federal entities and millions of citizens access networks and the spectrum. The notion that the path forward on this critical issue, developed by the best and the brightest, has been built on such uncertainties is disquieting - how can you be sure of the path forward if you're not sure of the starting point?

  4. Another Small ISP says:

    Broadband has a great demand out there, and the current Telecom Giants can't (or won't) provide the service. They still live in the 1960's where they believe that the Government owes them a living. They won't upgrade infrastructure without having the existing infrastructure paid for. A reasonable concern, but it is not getting the US into the world where we want to be.

    Under the previous administration, the telecom industry was put back ten years to where Ma Bell played the tune and the FCC danced to it. Competition was determined to be 2 or more competitors, and the small ISP was allowed to die an ungrateful and painful death. Prior to this, in the 1990's, competition was strong, services were available and service improved. In the 2000's competition was weak, customer service was poor and we are no further ahead than we would have been with the technology available in the year 2000.

    it is time to allow the computer rules to apply again. "Fair and EQUAL" access to the networks is the only way to go. The big boys are only interested in breaking the back of competition. They own the lines and claim full ownership rights. This world view was shown to be untenable in 1900, when every telegraph company had its own lines in the air. Pole space is at a premium. Lines need to be made "public property" and all competitors need to have "Fair and Equal" access to them.

  5. Guest says:

    Poles & public Property?
    The first problem you will see with this concept is theft and sabitage. Small communities in Maryland feel the effects of multiple providers on the poles. Technician and even consumers will damage or tamper with the competitions equipment to get customers to become frustrated and switch providers. This is clearly documented with Verizon & Broadstripe Cable.

    On another note here. I would like to see requirements for all broadband providers to provide access to the open internet in the shortest distant possible. Broadstripe Cable Co. uses level3 Fiber Optics for its Michigan, Maryland, Washington and Oregan backbone infrustructure. The Michigan data subscribers have horrible speeds and packet loss because all the data must travel on the backbone to Seattle, then onto San Diego, CA before the data can transmit to its destination. Simply put a customer running a trace route, from Charlotte Michigan to East Lansing Michigan (15 miles apart) will have the packets sent to Seattle, San Diego and then work its way back to Michigan via StLouis or Chicago and then back onto the MICHNET system to Michigan State university totalling 24 HOPS. This transmission should only take about 3 or 5 hops at the most.

    THis is why I'd like to see regulations in place to require ISP's to obtain data paths within a resonable distance.

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