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Archive for April 2010

Announcing “The Broadband Availability Gap” Staff Analysis

April 21st, 2010 by Rob Curtis - Deployment Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

By Rob Curtis - Deployment Director and Steve Rosenberg - Manager of Infrastructure, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

In the Plan, we wrote that 14 million Americans in 7 million homes do not have access to broadband service offering actual download speeds of 4 Mbps and actual upload speeds of 1 Mbps.  We found closing this gap would cost approximately $24 billion. The Plan recommended closing the gap by fundamentally refocusing the FCC universal service fund.

These figures are based on our analysis of the best available data inside the FCC and available from 3rd party sources.  Today, we release The Broadband Availability Gap, a staff technical paper detailing the methodology and model we used in our calculations. This is one of the most extensive, data-driven, detailed, and comprehensive analyses of broadband networks to date.  We believe it uses the best possible approach in light of the data currently available.  Releasing the detailed documentation of this effort also makes this one of the most transparent network analyses ever undertaken.

While complicated, the model we developed for the Plan essentially does two things.

First, it estimates the areas of the country in which 4/1 Mbps is not likely to be available in the next several years.  Our approach uses public and commercial data and relies in part on a statistical model to estimate the availability of broadband in every census block in the country.  This analysis focuses on the capabilities of the “last-mile” infrastructure (the access network), not on either subscribership or retail offerings. As we learn more from better FCC data gathering and state broadband data collection funded by NTIA, these estimates will improve. 

Second, it estimates the cost of bringing 4/1 Mbps to those unserved areas and the revenues that could be earned by doing so.  In doing so, it is conservative and technology-neutral.  We only modeled technologies—wireless, cable, satellite, and DSL—that are commercially-deployed today or will be in the near future. We wanted the model to inform practical solutions, not rely on promises of future breakthroughs.

While those steps sound straightforward, this paper shows that the task itself is complex. The financial model includes thousands of inputs, ranging from estimated signal propagation of wireless networks in particular geographies to the density of soil for trenching fiber optic cable in others.

The FCC has multiple servers supporting the model, and doing a run takes as much as 12 hours; the output from one such run produces roughly 4-5 gigabytes of data (and sometimes more).  The calculations required to reach the $24 billion gap require 10 model runs. Needless to say, a lot of time, sweat, and yes, on occasion, tears have gone into developing, building and supporting this model.

In developing the Plan, we are committed to openness and transparency. To this end, on May 6 at 3:00 pm, we will host a forum at the FCC to present an overview of our analysis and answer questions.  We stand behind our assumptions and conclusions in the technical paper. We look forward to feedback and discussion so that this analysis informs the policy process in the most impactful way.

Owning the Inevitable

April 20th, 2010 by Mark Wigfield - Spokesman, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin gave this speech on April 20 at the American Cable Association’s 17th Summit at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in Maryland.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got in terms of investing was to “own the inevitable.”

To “own the inevitable”: To invest in those areas for which success—or failure—are already written on the proverbial wall.

Those words provide insight.

But not a complete answer.

It’s always important to make sure your bets are consistent with the macro trends.

But even if there are certain inevitabilities you can see generally—a rough outline of the shape of the future---you cannot clearly see, for example, specific winners or losers or critical, formative details.

[Read the full speech.]

Overcoming Confirmation Bias

April 19th, 2010 by Mark Wigfield - Spokesman, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

Prepared remarks by Blair Levin at the roundtable discussion on the National Broadband Plan sponsored by the Columbia Institute for Teleinformation (CITI) and the New York Law School Media Center, April 19, 2010.

The path of progress, whether for an individual or a society, depends on the destruction of confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to interpret information in a way that confirms their existing beliefs.

But as Williams College Math Professor Edward Burger observed, all education—and in a broad sense, all innovation--only occurs when one sees a series of facts in the light of a new pattern.

[Read the full speech here.]

Dust-Free Zone

April 16th, 2010 by Phoebe Yang - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

A common criticism of major planning documents is that they end up gathering dust on the shelf, being used as door stoppers, getting stuffed in a file cabinet. But one month after its release, the National Broadband Plan is still flying off the shelf rather than gathering dust on it. More important, many of the recommendations have already been implemented or have traction. The FCC itself has implemented over a dozen ideas that were generated or gained momentum during development of the Plan, such as making Internet access in schools funded by the E-rate program available for community use, providing more flexibility in our Rural Health Care Pilot Program, streamlining mobile wireless tower sitings, increasing use of MSS spectrum for terrestrial service, and launching multi-agency efforts with the NTIA on spectrum and the FDA on wireless health care devices.   Outside the FCC, five partnerships or coalitions recommended by the FCC to encourage adoption or increase connectivity are already underway, including project GOAL for senior citizens, the Apps for Inclusion competition co-sponsored with the Knight Foundation, a small business partnership for digital literacy, a collaboration between technology companies and HUD to increase broadband adoption in low income households, and a consortium to upgrade connectivity in 40,000 community anchor institutions. . And at its upcoming meeting on April 21, the Commission will begin tackling six major policy recommendations in the plan, taking on issues like Universal Service Reform, cyber security, deployment of wireless data services, and innovation in television set-top boxes.

All this activity is no accident: the Plan was both visionary and pragmatic. It provides the push and direction needed by the Commission to move on tough issues, such as reforming universal service for broadband. And it identifies and prioritizes ideas for which there is already consensus, such as public-private partnerships for adoption. Plus, the plan itself provided the Commission with tools for action. A sophisticated economic model used to identify areas of the country that lack broadband connections can be a tool for figuring out how to best to provide service. A first-ever consumer survey on adoption has identified segments of the population that need the most help, whether they be people with disabilities, Tribal areas, the elderly or low-income communities.   The Plan’s recognition that competition thrives when consumers have more information has already been translated into action in a variety of tools launched by the Commission to help consumers and the agency assess available and advertised broadband speeds. Our user-friendly spectrum dashboard is already providing the public with more information about spectrum use.

So if you need a door stop, find something else. Chances are if you use the Plan for that, someone will snatch it away before it can gather any dust.

The Sunshine Period And Next Week's Open Commission Meeting

April 15th, 2010 by Joel Kaufman

Each month, the Commission holds a public meeting to transact business.  Approximately a week before the meeting, the Commission releases a public notice placing designated matters on the meeting agenda.  The so-called “Sunshine Period” begins with a public notice stating that a matter will be considered at a meeting, and lasts until the Commission releases a decision in the matter, deletes the matter from the agenda, or returns the matter to the staff.  Unless an exception applies, oral or written presentations to FCC decision-makers concerning matters listed on a meeting agenda are prohibited during the Sunshine Period.  The purpose of the Sunshine Period is to allow the Commission to finalize its decisions without being interrupted by last minute comments.

The matters on the Commission’s April 21, 2010 open meeting implement portions of the Commission’s recent Broadband Report to Congress.  They include: 

Item No.: 1
Bureau
: Wireline Competition
Title: Connect America Fund; A National Broadband Plan for Our Future (GN Docket No 09-51); and High-Cost Universal Service Support (WC Docket No. 05-337)
Summary: The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking initiating universal service reforms as outlined in the National Broadband Plan and Joint Statement on Broadband.

Item No.: 2
Bureau
: Wireless Tele-Communications
Title: Reexamination of Roaming Obligations of Commercial Mobile Radio Service Providers and Other Providers of Mobile Data Services (WT Docket No. 05-265)
Summary: The Commission will consider an Order on Reconsideration regarding automatic voice roaming requirements and a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding automatic roaming for mobile data services.

Item No.: 3
Bureau: Media 
Title: Video Device Competition; Implementation of Section 304 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996: Commercial Availability of Navigation Devices (CS Docket No. 97-80); and Compatibility Between Cable Systems and Consumer Electronics Equipment (PP Docket No. 00-67)
Summary: The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on best approaches to assure the commercial availability of smart video devices and other equipment used to access the services of multichannel video programming distributors.

Item No.: 4
Bureau
: Media
Title: Implementation of Section 304 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996:   Commercial Availability of Navigation Devices(CS Docket No. 97-80); and Compatibility Between Cable Systems and Consumer Electronics Equipment (PP Docket No. 00-67)
Summary: The Commission will consider a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes changes to the CableCARD rules for set-top boxes used with cable services, to improve the operation of that framework pending the development of a successor framework.

Item No.: 5
Bureau: Public Safety & Homeland Security
Title:  Effects on Broadband Communications Networks Of Damage to or Failure of Network Equipment Or Severe Overload
Summary: The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry that examines the survivability of broadband infrastructure and seeks comment on the ability of existing broadband networks to withstand significant damage or severe overloads as result of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, pandemics or other major public emergencies.

Item No.: 6
Bureau
: Public Safety & Homeland Security
Title: Cyber Security Certification  Program
Summary: The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry on whether to establish a voluntary cyber security certification program.

The Commission's broadband.gov blog hosts discussions on a wide range of broadband related issues -- far more than the items under consideration at the upcoming Commission meeting.  In order to permit discussions unrelated to the open meeting topics to continue, the Commission will not shut down the blog pages during the Sunshine Period.  However, the public is advised that, consistent with the purpose of the Sunshine Period, comments submitted on blog pages in broadband.gov during the Sunshine Period will not be considered by the Commission in finalizing the items under consideration at the meeting on April 21.  We expect to follow a similar policy in future months as various broadband related matters are considered at open meetings of the Commission.

Your Stories About Broadband Internet Access

April 14th, 2010 by Page Schindler Buchanan

Since the rollout of the National Broadband Plan last month, Americans have shared their stories about broadband in their daily lives. In the end, expanding Broadband access is about improving people’s lives - fostering communities, providing access to services and information, and saving time and money.  

We asked you to share your stories of how access to broadband – and in some cases, the lack of broadband – affects you and your community.  The response has been phenomenal.  On this blog we will be talking more about your experiences, and how broadband innovation will make a difference for Americans and their families.  Here is just a sample of what you’ve shared with us so far.

Daniel in Sebastian, Florida
Librarian

We offer essential services -- employment opportunities, applications for government assistance such as unemployment benefits and food stamps, and online interactions with educational institutions. Here at the Indian River County Library System … an ever-increasing number of patrons are filling our public computing sections to overflow. We want to add more computers. But we don't have sufficient bandwidth to handle the extra load. And with the severe budget cuts we've endured, we don't the funds to pay for it.

Stephen in Marietta, Georgia
Non-traditional College Student

Without broadband I would not have been able to easily and effectively continue my Bachelor of Science degree while working full-time.

Richard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Volunteer First Responder

I am a trained volunteer weather spotter for the NWS in the Milwaukee area, a First Responder trained by the CERT program, and an instructor in Emergency Communications for the American Radio Relay League.

As a first responder, having reliable wireless data communications is necessary when responding to an event and a large amount of data has to be moved or information garnered about the area and what is being dealt with. This could also involve sending pictures, text, information files, etc., by wireless. My current provider, -----, from my experiences, would not have a wireless system that could be reliable enough for First Responder needs in the field.

Jason in Guthrie, Oklahoma
Local Football Fan

We stream our Oklahoma Metro Football League over the internet live.

Frank in Eatonville, Washington
Commuter

The only internet access available in our area is dial-up. The dial-up connection is a horrible 28.8Kbps. My company offers telecommuting but I can't work from home with such slow speeds. It's too bad because I have to drive almost 40 miles to work. Rural customers like me need an affordable broadband solution. It's like we're living in the stone age out here.

Carol in Reading, Vermont
Rural Doctor

As a surgeon, I need to watch surgical videos to learn new techniques and get my continuing medical education credits. I CANNOT DO THIS IN MY OWN HOME. … it is the lack of highspeed that hinders me professionally and may cause me to move back to civilization, depriving my rural neighborhood of a highly qualified doctor. My husband is a consultant and loses credibility because he cannot access information quickly during conference calls. Please help us.

Please keep sending us your stories.  We’ll continue to share your thoughts about the National Broadband Plan as we work to ensure broadband access for all Americans.

Letter to the President: “Unleash the Forces of Innovation”

April 10th, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

On Monday the National Broadband Plan received a strong vote of support from a coalition of almost 50 leading technology companies, clean technology start-ups, non-governmental organizations, and venture capitalists.

Signatories include GE, Google, Comcast, AT&T, Verzion, Intel, HP, Nokia, Best Buy, Whirlpool, the Environmental Defense Fund, Alliance to Save Energy, ACEEE, NRDC, Foundation Capital, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

In their open letter to President Obama, the coalition writes “every household and business [should have] access to timely, useful and actionable information on their energy use.” Specifically, the letter highlights the importance of allowing consumers to view their own energy consumption, pricing and pricing plans, and electricity generation sources.

It’s encouraging to see a diverse set of influential organizations endorse the principle that consumers should be able to get access to timely energy data as a way to “unleash the forces of innovation in homes and businesses” and prevent millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

As highlighted in the letter, the National Broadband Plan delivered a similar vision a few weeks ago.  One of the six goals for the country in the plan is:

“To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.”

The plan also included a series of recommendations to the states, the Administration, and Congress to encourage utilities to make energy information more available to consumers, in open, machine-readable formats.  Check them out in the National Broadband Plan.

Google and the Climate Group hosted a forum: “Power in Numbers: Unleashing Innovation in Home Energy Use” on Tuesday afternoon. I was on a panel, but the highlight of the day was the keynote: Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.

She mentioned that “we need people to really understand not only how much electricity they are using but where their electricity is coming from.” In addition, she said that “giving people this kind of real-time feedback will start to change not only their behavior, which is important, but equally important is start to drive the demand for more efficient appliances.”

We couldn’t agree more.

If you missed the event, check out these four videos:
Part 1 of 4
Part 2 of 4
Part 3 of 4
Part 4 of 4

A New Way to Measure Broadband in America

April 9th, 2010 by Dave Vorhaus - Expert Advisor, Economic Opportunity

One of the central components of the National Broadband Plan is to increase the amount of information consumers have about the performance of their broadband service.   Transparency makes markets more competitive as consumers are armed with the information they need to choose providers and understand the service they receive.  We have already started that process by posting tools on our website that can measure point in time speeds, and using comScore and 477 to show aggregate figures on broadband connections. However, speed measurements from these tools are often affected by many factors, including slow home computers, internet traffic patterns and network congestion.  As the New York Times and others have pointed out, consumers need to know what level of service their ISP is actually delivering, independent of other factors, and how that performance compares to the advertised maximums of a connection.

A few weeks ago we announced the first step in collecting that information for consumers, the solicitation of bids for a third-party to independently test absolute speeds that providers deliver.  We are pleased to announce that the bidding process resulted in the selection of SamKnows Limited to partner with the FCC on broadband testing.  SamKnows brings a wealth of experience in measuring and analyzing broadband speeds, having completed a similar project for Ofcom, the regulator in the United Kingdom, last year. In a couple of weeks, we will be asking for consumers from across the country to voluntarily install hardware in their homes (on an opt-in basis) that is capable of measuring broadband performance.  The measurements will give us results across a broad swath of providers, service tiers and geographic areas.  More details on how to volunteer will follow in the coming weeks. We are tremendously excited about this announcement, the next step in the process of increasing transparency and competition in the broadband market and better informing consumers about their broadband service.

The FCC will also release a Public Notice in the coming days with details on SamKnows’ technical approach and methodology to allow for comment and new ideas. We’d like to encourage everyone to provide us with thoughts and comments about the approach, both here on the blog as well as in direct response to the PN. And, of course, when the website is announced -- sign up to participate in the panel!

The FCC’s Public Safety Broadband Blueprint: A Cost-Efficient and Effective Solution for Our Nation’s First Responders

April 9th, 2010 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

In the past few weeks since the release of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, it’s refreshing to see an increased public dialogue on the many innovative and important recommendations aimed at improving the lives of Americans. The public safety chapter of the Plan outlined several such proposals, the cornerstone being the deployment of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network with dedicated capacity for public safety uses that will serve our brave first responders from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. Questions of cost to build the network and the benefits of such an ambitious investment are especially critical during a time where resources are increasingly scarce, even for the most important infrastructure projects.

The public safety network will be a multi-pronged initiative that will be a model of greater reliability and resiliency, capacity and cost savings.  Further, public safety will have access to 10 MHz of dedicated capacity as well as to commercial broadband capacity on a priority basis (up to 80 MHz of capacity in total).  This more robust and hardened public safety broadband network will provide reliable service to first responders, who everyday are dedicated to serving their communities across the country.  The ability to roam onto commercial networks and obtain priority access in times of emergency will expand and enhance current capacity, and resiliency. Further, public safety will have a choice of commercial partners, ensuring that its needs are met in the most efficient manner. 

The leveraging of commercial technologies under the FCC Plan will enable public safety agencies to achieve greater communications capabilities, but at much lower costs and ruggedized for public safety use. The Plan requests public funding to support the construction and operation of the public safety broadband network and projects the capital cost to be approximately $6.5 billion over 10 years. However, additional cost-saving efficiencies will further reduce this estimate such as sharing federal infrastructure, working with utilities, or use of state and local tower sites to improve coverage.  The Plan also calls for $6-10 billion in operating costs for the network to be funded through public funding.

The Plan’s recommendation for public funding of the public safety broadband network is at a critical juncture. It is imperative that the public safety community be given access to funds to make sure this network becomes a reality and is able to leverage commercial deployment of 4G technologies.  By leveraging commercial technologies at this juncture, the overall cost of the public safety broadband network will be substantially less to the country.  It will also ensure that this network is deployed soonest to better protect all Americans, no matter where they live. 

I don’t think there are many who would argue that there is a critical and essential need for this nationwide public safety broadband network in America. The FCC’s blue-print for a path forward is comprehensive and ultimately will save our nation time and money, while providing public safety with the robust broadband communications they need to better serve their communities. Together, we as a nation can make this happen. A clear path forward is before us.

The Record Is Clear: America Needs More Spectrum

April 8th, 2010 by Edward Lazarus - Chief of Staff

Many have noted recent comments by the CEO of Verizon Ivan Seidenberg casting doubt on the need to allocate additional spectrum for mobile broadband, a key recommendation in the National Broadband Plan.

The FCC based the spectrum recommendations in the National Broadband Plan on the public record generated by an unprecedented open and participatory process.

That’s why the recent statements by Verizon’s CEO are rather baffling. The fact is, Verizon played a major role in building an overwhelming record in support of more mobile broadband spectrum, consistently expressing its official view that the country faces a looming spectrum crisis that could undermine the country’s global competitiveness.

Verizon’s advocacy began as early as June 9, 2009, where their filing stated:

“Verizon Wireless believes it is vitally important for the federal government to identify spectrum bands that can be reallocated for future broadband use. Any policy or strategy to promote broadband access to acknowledge the need for more spectrum in order to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband.”

“The government has the responsibility to identify and license spectrum to serve the public interest.”

“Verizon Wireless believes that a more important goal of any spectrum inventory should be to identify any underused spectrum that can be repurposed to auction for broadband use.”

Verizon’s push for more mobile broadband spectrum continued in a September 30, 2009 filing, which notes:

“The Commission has identified only 50 megahertz of additional spectrum for next generation wireless growth. This total lags behind both the United States’ competitor nations as well as the ever increasing demand for mobile broadband services. Verizon Wireless therefore urges the Commission to undertake a targeted examination of spectrum to identify additional bands.”

“Recognizing that ‘the world is at the precipice of the full scale convergence of two powerful and sweeping forces: wireless mobility and broadband internet access,’ numerous studies have analyzed the growing market for mobile broadband and concluded that significant additional spectrum must be allocated in order to keep up with demand and changing technologies. These studies make clear the urgency with which the Commission must act to identify and allocate additional spectrum for wireless services in order to maintain and promote innovation.”

Indeed, the need for more spectrum is well documented in the many studies submitted into National Broadband Plan record. According to Cisco, North American wireless networks carried an amount of data equivalent to 1,700 Libraries of Congress. By 2014, Cisco projects wireless networks in North America will experience more than a 40-fold increase in data traffic.

Participating in a National Broadband Plan workshop on spectrum, Bill Stone, Executive Director of Network Strategy for Verizon Wireless noted that the company has recently experienced substantial data growth in its network and would need more spectrum in the coming years:

“I'll say in the five-plus year timeframe, I'd like to have north of -- I'd like to be in a position where I could acquire north of 100 megahertz.”

Even as recently December 2, 2009, Verizon Wireless, along with nearly 100 other leading companies from across the broadband ecosystem, sent a letter to Commission offering their help in pursuing more spectrum for mobile broadband:

“Our nation’s ability to lead the world in innovation and technology is threatened by the lack of sufficient spectrum for wireless broadband applications and services. As the chairman has said, there is a looming spectrum crisis. We applaud your candid acknowledgement of this fact and appreciate your efforts to close the spectrum gap.”

“Without more spectrum, America’s global leadership in innovation and technology is threatened. The undersigned urge you to allocate more spectrum for wireless broadband as soon as possible. Please let us know how we can help.”

Moreover, the wireless industry’s trade association (CTIA -- of which Verizon is a member) called for 800 Mhz of spectrum for mobile broadband -- 300 Mhz more spectrum more than the Plan recommended -- to address the looming spectrum crunch.

As the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) aptly summarized: "Given the potential of wireless services to reach underserved areas and to provide an alternative to wireline broadband providers in other areas, the Commission’s primary tool for promoting broadband competition should be freeing up spectrum."

The National Broadband Plan record contains widespread agreement and a solid foundation of factual evidence on the need for the FCC to pursue policies that would free up 500 Mhz for mobile broadband by 2020.

We hope to work with Verizon and other companies across the communications sector on ways to achieve the important goal of ensuring that the United States has world-leading mobile broadband infrastructure.



Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones