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Broadband Reports Interview
Drew Clark, Center for Public Integrity, on FCC broadband data
by Karl Bode 02:22PM Thursday Oct 19 2006
Headed by Pulitzer prize winner Wendell Rawls, Jr., The Center for Public Integrity recently sued the FCC in order to more quickly get raw data on broadband penetration, previously requested by the group under the Freedom of Information Act. Since accurate calculation of this country's broadband infrastructure is a frequent discussion topic, we sat down briefly with Drew Clark, 15-year journalist and Project Manager for the group's "Well Connected" effort, to explore what the group hopes to achieve.

BBR: Can you briefly touch on why you're suing the FCC, and precisely what data you hope to obtain?

DC: Here at the Center for Public Integrity's telecommunications and media project "Well Connected," for three years we've been providing the Media Tracker to allow individuals to find out more about the broadcast television, radio, cable and newspapers serving a particular city or zip code.

The television, radio and cable data comes straight from the FCC, which we then clean up and put in our database. The database is available for free on the Internet at www.publicintegrity.org/telecom. When I joined the project in mid-August, I realized that it was just as important to provide some kind of mechanism to track the level of broadband service within a given region.

As I researched the subject, I realized that the FCC also has data about the companies that provide broadband within a particular zip code. It comes from the FCC Forum 477, which have been required from broadband providers since 2000. It would make a perfect fit for the Media Tracker.

Even though the agency provides information on the broadcast television, radio and cable companies serving an area, it does not do the same for broadband. Given the commitment by President Bush and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to encouraging broadband competition throughout the United States, this is a curious position.

We filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the data from the FCC. We want to make this information publicly available in the Media Tracker. When the FCC failed to respond to our request within the required 20 working days, we filed suit in the federal district court in Washington.

BBR: What will "Joe consumer" be able to do with your project website once completed?

DC: On Tuesday, October 17, we released the first update to our Media Tracker web site (available here -Ed). Send all of your readers to the site, type in your ZIP code, and learn what you can learn about the media and telecommunications companies serving your area.

BBR: We've consistently discussed criticism (see story here, Ed) that states that the FCC releases broadband penetration data that puts a positive spin on the nation's broadband infrastructure in order to bolster incumbent friendly deregulatory policies. In studying the data you're compiling, have you found those claims to be accurate?

DC: This is undoubtedly true. We are, of course, familiar with the many problems associated with measuring broadband penetration based on how many individual zip codes are covered by a given number of providers. The FCC statistic is often used to suggest that an area is served when only one customer within a ZIP code may purchase high-speed access.

But to those critics of using any ZIP code-based data, I reply: one has to start somewhere. The FCC already collects the information about who provides service within a ZIP code. Having the names of those providers publicly available will effectively allow the everyday computer user to "truth-check" the FCC's numbers.

BBR: Both Commissioner Copps and the GAO have admitted the FCC data collection methodology and subsequent analysis needs work. Agree?

DC: I agree that it would be useful to have better statistics about broadband data. Commissioner Copps and others, for example, have suggested collecting data on a ZIP + four level.

BBR: Your thoughts on the FCC's classification of one-way 200kbps as "broadband"?

DC: That classification is very much out of date, but I think the FCC should keep collecting that data a useful benchmark between the future and the present. It should also continue to collect data based on a range of faster speeds of performance.

BBR: On April 26, 2004, President Bush promised to help bring "broadband technology to every corner of our country by the year 2007 with competition shortly thereafter." With a year left, what are your thoughts on this promise?

DC: It's be interesting to see how the Bush administration addresses this. It is important, however, to recognize the distinction between broadband being available, and broadband being subscribed to. On whatever day of whatever year the home in America can get broadband, there will still be households that do not subscribe.

BBR: What can government do to help aid the improvement of the country's broadband infrastructure?

DC: Many things, and I'm certainly not expert enough to know all of them. Two thoughts come to mind, however: allow greater competition in the video marketplace, and make more radio-frequencies available to companies and individuals seeking to offer wireless broadband services.

BBR: While pitching these state-wide franchises (one of which was just passed in California) to the public and lawmakers, incumbents state the elimination of local franchises will result in ample competition and broader deployment of next generation services. Is this an accurate claim?

DC: The research I have seen -- both Bell-funded and non-Bell-funded, such as the Government Accountability Office -- shows that wireline-based competition will lower video prices and spur greater broadband deployment.

BBR: Do you think we'll see a national franchise law passed?

DC: A national franchise looks unlikely to pass as long as "network neutrality" is hanging in the air. It may be that the Bells begin to take a state-by-state approach. I wrote about this recently in my "Wired in Washington" column (available here, -Ed).

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DaSneaky1D
what's up
Premium,MVM
join:2001-03-29
The Lou
Reviews:
·Charter

Where's the answer?

quote:
BBR: While pitching these state-wide franchises (one of which was just passed in California) to the public and lawmakers, incumbents state the elimination of local franchises will result in ample competition and broader deployment of next generation services. Is this an accurate claim?

DC: The research I have seen -- both Bell-funded and non-Bell-funded, such as the Government Accountability Office -- shows that wireline-based competition will lower video prices and spur greater broadband deployment.
Yeah...competition usually does lead to lower prices and more options, but does the removal of local franchise agreements help this along?
--
:: my trivial ramblings ::

Karl Bode
News Guy
join:2000-03-02
kudos:44

Re: Where's the answer?

I had the same exact question included in a post-interview e-mail to Drew that has yet to be responded to.

Yes, competition lowers prices.

But does eliminating local regulatory authority, which will result in cherry picking for best ROI, really result in an increased deployment of next-gen services?

I still don't think there was a functional discussion conducted before these statewide franchises were handed out. It seems like the telcos wave around a banner saying "franchise reform = lower cable prices & competitive utopia" and everyone just claps.

N3OGH
Yo Soy Col. "Bat" Guano
Premium
join:2003-11-11
Philly burbs
kudos:2

Re: Where's the answer?

said by Karl Bode:

It seems like the telcos wave around a banner saying "franchise reform = lower cable prices & competitive utopia" and everyone just claps.
Or, the telcos wave around their Grants and Franklins and all the lawmakers run to make deposits in their re election campaign funds.
--
Never ask what sort of a computer a guy drives. If he's a Mac user, he'll tell you. If not, why embarrass him? -Tom Clancy

Matt3
All noise, no signal.
Premium
join:2003-07-20
Jamestown, NC
kudos:12

1 recommendation

Like

I like this sort of article and would love to see these more often.

Good work Karl.
aj004

join:2006-05-28
Forest Hills, NY

1 edit

Re: Like

The FCC reports that 14 broadband providers service 11375, Forest Hills, NY

14? I know of RCN, Time Warner and Verizon as the only last mile providers. So that means there are 11 CLEC's which resell over Verizon POTS lines like Covad, Broadwing (now acquired by Level 3), AT&T, and others?

Of the 3 providers we have which are WIRED, there really is only 3 main competitors for residential no matter what the FCC data says.

Its a useless lawsuit even if they get access to the data because its irrelevant for the end user since for residential its 3 provider and for commercial you have dozens of players and they can be easily found out about.

ITALIAN926

join:2003-08-16
kudos:2

Re: Like

Dont forget satellite bropadband and cellular broadband. Im sure tahts part of the #14
Nuts65

join:2006-04-27
Forest, OH
Yes, I totally agree with MattE

dslextreme2
Premium
join:2001-02-23
Canoga Park, CA

3 edits
I second the pat on the back.

It seems that many people are so into the soundbite they no longer get down to the nitty gritty and the real details.

I recently saw an interview where a senator or congressman was asked about the conflicting sects in Iraq and he was un-able to differentiate them or figure out which side of the conflict each one was on. Pretty typical in our society today and very sad.
Nuts65

join:2006-04-27
Forest, OH

ZIP Codes Way to Broade

Zip codes may word in towns, but they are way to broad for more rural areas. My zip code is for a village about 10 miles away, and is in a different county. There is a village that is less than 3 miles from my house. It is easy to see how going by zip codes will not amount to very accurate information. The only way they will get accurate information is to go my street address.
aj004

join:2006-05-28
Forest Hills, NY

Re: ZIP Codes Way to Broade

Its useless either way..............

All the info is on the internet, this isn't the stone age. Can find it from a zillion different sources.

batterup
I Can Not Tell A Lie.
Premium
join:2003-02-06
Netcong, NJ

Shocking!!!

A fair and balanced news post.