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The Evolution (and Revolution) in Broadband Data

September 2nd, 2010 by Steven Rosenberg


Broadband is an evolving technology, as is our twice-annual report on Internet access connections in the U.S. In our last report, we introduced changes that were closer to revolutionary – county and census tract-level data, reports on 72 different upload and download speed categories, and improved information about mobile and residential connections. The changes in the report we’re releasing today, based on June 2009 data, are more evolutionary, but they’re important nonetheless. 

First, we move away from the framing the report around speed classifications based on the 200 kilobits per second (kbps) standard that we have used for a decade, classifications the Commission dubbed “high-speed” if connections were greater than 200 kbps in one direction and “advanced” if > 200 kbps was delivered both up and down. Consistent with that move, we’ve renamed the report the Internet Access Services Report (it used to be called the High-Speed Services report).

Second, we add information about the number of fixed connections with 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream or faster. As we explain in the recently released 706 report, this speed tier is the best approximation for the availability of a network capable of delivering 4 Mbps down- and 1 Mbps up-stream. The 4/1 speed was also the national broadband availability target laid out in the National Broadband Plan and related papers. 

Interestingly, while the 706 report notes that more than 90% of homes have access to networks capable of providing that speed, today’s report shows that only 44% of fixed residential subscriptions have advertised speeds of at least 3 Mbps down, 768 kbps up. This may be surprising, but it is consistent with the types of use that are most common and to other data (see Broadband Performance paper).

Of course actual speeds may lag advertised – hence our effort to gather hard data on the differences between actual and advertised speeds.

As with prior reports, this Internet Access Services Report includes information on the number of broadband providers in each area. It’s important to remember that the maps we have posted portraying these numbers do not represent the number of competitors in any area. Because every provider’s service footprint is different, the presence of multiple providers in a census tract does not mean those providers all offer service to any particular business or residential location. Even for providers that serve the same area, different offerings may not compete with one another (e.g., a 50 Mbps fiber-to-the-home offering may not compete with a 768 kbps DSL offering). But, as you’ll see, with the new report providing data on higher-speed tiers, a whole new picture emerges.

The report doesn’t focus only on fixed broadband service.  Note the incredible growth of wireless data plans: subscriptions to mobile data services for full Internet access increased by 40% in just six months. That increase underscores how critical it is to free-up more spectrum to support these popular, innovation-driving services, as called for in the National Broadband Plan and by the President in his June 28th Executive Memorandum.

All good, but we’re not yet satisfied: the report still needs improvements – and, more to the point, the data collection needs to be improved. As we underscored in our Data Innovation Initiative, we want the decisions of this Commission to be driven by the best data possible. That means gathering the data we need to support policy decisions – including, for example, answering questions about competition – and improving public access to as much data as we can while protecting confidential data. 

Change – either evolutionary or revolutionary -- is good, but change is a challenge for everyone. I believe the changes we’ve made so far and are planning for upcoming Internet Access Services Reports are worth the effort.

6 Responses to “The Evolution (and Revolution) in Broadband Data”

  1. Guest says:

    I canceled my landline since all I can get over it is Dial-up only and can't get DSL or any other sort of landline high-speed internet, I decideed to get high-speed internet from Virgin mobile 3G. With 3G I can atleast Game over it because I am a gamer.

  2. Guest says:

    For my midsize business, the most important broadband requirements are speed and cost. I don't see these objectives stated in the plan. 100 Mbps is a goal that aligns with our plans in the new future but at what cost? Also, because of the frequency of outages in our telecommunications infrastructure, we need to provision dual circuits from different carriers at each end point. What is the FCC doing in this regard?

  3. Guest says:

    i don't agree when they say 90% of americans have broadband. i don't count sat as broadband cause you have a limited amount of data u can download in one day before ur at dial up speeds. two u can't play games over because of the lag. only thing i consider true broadband is a cable or dsl type line. and i'm just count what regular people can afford. and most people unless they are inside of a city can't get cable or dsl because providers are to cheap to spend money to upgrade no matter how many people call and complain. they will make all the money plus some back with in a year or two and beyond that is all profite. right know i am 1500 feet away from dsl and about two and a half miles from cable. because some people at the phone company don't know how to run a phone cable to the end of a road instead of bring a different phone cable about 2500 feet up a road and dead end it. i called to find out how much it would cost to run the 1500 foot of cable and they tried to say it was against the law since there was another phone cable. i was calling to find out and pay for it myself and couldn't even get a price. the reason i say sat is not broadband is because all i could do with it when i had it was surf the internet or i would go over my limit and have dail up speeds for more money then dsl or cable at faster speeds. and i could not play my ps3 over it without dying so it was not worth $70 a month to me. celluar data plans are caped too by any provider that u can get a good coverage with so it's not worth it. so until the goverment makes these company's accually spend some money alot of americans are just screwed.

  4. Guest says:

    I think the FCC should define broadband consistently. This article states 4 different speeds (4 meg, 3 meg, 768k and 200k). Which speed does the FCC want to use for broadband? What do consumers expect?

  5. Guest says:

    Two questions:

    (1) Why does it take the FCC a year to analyze the data and publish a report?

    (2) Take rates are clearly affected by price, but your report says nothing about Internet access price vs. bandwidth vs. take rate. I suppose your data request form doesn't ask for pricing info, so shouldn't you add that to your request?

    Thanx

  6. Guest says:

    you guys need to be careful not to regulate or even signal that there must be a floor for commercial offers for broadband access (as you have done by using this stupid 4/1 target, which is easily confused with a minimum threshold for a definition (a horrible idea). 30% of Americans don't have broadband because is too expensive for them, and if stupid bureaucrats in DC continue to talk about minimum speeds for defining broadband service, it will prevent service providers from introducing low cost, low end offers. you are doing irreparable harm to the poorest Americans and the development of broadband in this country. Someone should get a real economist like Stockdale or Kwerel to weigh in on this. Jonathan Baker should know better too.

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