Tuesday, March 25, 2008

FCC Expands and Improves Broadband Data Collection

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an order that will increase the precision and quality of broadband subscribership data collected every six months from broadband services providers.

I've written in the past about how the Federal Communications Commission currently defines broadband in the United States:

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)."

I've also written in the past about how the FCC currently collects broadband data. Here's a piece from a press release by House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet Chairman Ed Markey describing the current FCC broadband data collection methods:

"...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."

Here's a brief outline of the new order summarized from an excellent post at CNET's News.com:

200Kbps speeds are no longer considered "broadband"
768Kbps, typical entry-level speed offered by major DSL providers, will be considered the low end of "basic broadband," a range that extends to under 1.5Mbps.

Broadband service speeds will have to be reported both for uploads and downloads
Previously the FCC had six big categories of broadband speeds, and they effectively only tracked download speeds. Now the agency says it will require reporting on upload speeds.

Upload and download speeds will have to be reported in a more specific way
At the moment, the broadband speeds most commonly offered by cable and telephone companies are lumped into two major categories: those between 200Kbps and 2.5Mbps, and those between 2.5Mbps and 10Mbps. The FCC's new rules would require them to be broken down further, in an attempt to address charges that the current buckets have the potential to overstate the number of high-end subscriptions and understate the number of low-end subscriptions. Those new tiers will be: 1) 200Kbps to 768Kbps ("first generation data"); 2) 768Kbps to 1.5Mbps ("basic broadband"); 3) 1.5Mbps to 3Mbps; 4) 3Mbps to 6Mbps; and 5) 6Mbps and above.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be required to report numbers of subscribers, and at the census-block level
The ISP's will have to report the number of subscribers in each census tract they serve, broken down by speed tier. The FCC decided to use census tracts because researchers may be able to use other demographic statistics collected by the U.S. Census, such as age and income level, to gain insight about what drives broadband penetration rates.

In addition, ISPs will not have to report the prices they charge at this time but like will have to in the future. You can read the March 19 FCC press release titled "FCC EXPANDS, IMPROVES BROADBAND DATA COLLECTION" here.

This is a significant and necessary decision that we all should be excited about.

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