Friday, October 12, 2007

U.S. Broadband Census of America

House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Chairman Edward J. Markey's (D-MA) Broadband Census of America Act was given initial approval this week. The bill is designed to "provide for a comprehensive nationwide inventory of existing broadband service, and for other purposes" and will produce a national broadband inventory map. I've beat around broadband a bit here and have expressed my frustration regarding the "broadband divide" in the United States today.

According to the FCC website, broadband is generally defined in the United States as follows:

"High-speed Internet access or “broadband” allows users to access the Internet and Internet-related services at significantly higher speeds than those available through “dial-up” Internet access services. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) generally defines broadband service as data transmission speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), or 200,000 bits per second, in at least one direction: downstream (from the Internet to your computer) or upstream (from your computer to the Internet)."

The bill had language to change this - according to

"The bill (original discussion draft pdf) initially stated that if a connection wasn't 2Mbps, it technically wasn't broadband. That provision has since been removed in a compromise....."

It's extremely unfortunate to see the 2 Mbps minimum removed for obvious reasons. Markey has posted an interesting release regarding the current broadband collection methods - here's a piece:

"...the fact that current data collection methods used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are inadequate and highly flawed. Currently, the FCC counts a single broadband subscriber in a 5-digit zip code as indicating the entire zip code has broadband availability, even if the sole subscriber is a business and not a residential consumer. This can lead to highly inaccurate and overly generous notions of actual broadband availability and use, particularly in rural areas where zip codes are quite large."

This obviously needs to change. Markey goes on to praise mapping work done in Kentucky:

"This bill also encompasses an effort modeled, in part, on the experience in the State of Kentucky. There, a state-wide broadband mapping effort and community organizing initiative for un-served and under-served areas has helped to increase consumer and community knowledge of where and what type of broadband service is available, at a street-level degree of specificity. This is a very consumer-friendly mapping function and “demand-side” identification that the high tech and telecommunications industry also supports. The Committee Print contains similar provisions that embody the same goal."

A colleague in Kentucky, Vince Dinoto, has shown me some of these maps - very impressive. You can see some of the Kentucky work here. Figuring out exactly where services are needed - mapping - is one of the first steps in breaking the "broadband divide" in this country.

The bill is now up for consideration by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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