IN THE LOOP: One nation, with broadband, for all

Sun, 11/30/2008 - 7:30pm
Thomas G. Robinson, Executive Vice President, CBG Communications Inc.

It’s funny how you can sense that change is coming. It starts as a fleeting feeling and then escalates until it seems to dominate the tone of nearly everything that happens. Obama’s historic victory in the presidential election certainly Thomas G. Robinsonportends many changes in Washington, as his promise to change the country’s course was the overarching theme of his campaign.

The FCC certainly senses that change is in the works, knowing that the chairman, and most likely the focus, of the Commission will change with the new Administration. Consequently, they have been scurrying quite ardently to attack a number of controversial issues head-on. Most notably, this recently included the adoption of new rules to utilize the “white space” between television carriers.

The Commission will also have new tasks to perform under Public Law No. 110-385, the Broadband Data Improvement Act. This legislation had been kicking around for a while, but true to form as its sponsors sensed a potential change in the coming environment, passage efforts shifted into high gear after the summer recess, and it was recently signed by the President. It is noble in purpose, declaring that “continued progress in deployment and adoption of broadband technology is vital to ensuring that our Nation remains competitive and continues to create business and job growth.” The new law recognizes that current federal data on deployment and adoption of broadband service needs improvement, and that the federal government should work to “recognize and encourage complementary State efforts to improve the quality and usefulness of broadband data.”

The Act builds on the recent actions of the FCC to expand the depth, detail and utility of broadband data that the Commission will begin gathering in March 2009 with its new Form 477 requirements. However, it also expands the focus and includes additional entities in gathering broadband data from a federal perspective for the first time.

For example, the new law requires the FCC to make international comparisons by gathering information comparing the extent of broadband service capability (regarding both data transmission speeds and price) in a total of 75 different communities, in at least 25 different countries, with the data rate benchmarks (different speed tiers) for broadband service utilized by the Commission. As part of the Form 477 requirements, the FCC has adopted a first-generation broadband tier and seven additional tiers of broadband service that form a matrix of more than 64 different combinations of broadband upload and download speed pairings, up to greater than 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) symmetrical.

The law also requires the FCC to conduct, and make public, periodic surveys of consumers in urban, suburban and rural areas, and in large business, small business and residential consumer markets, aimed at determining a variety of different broadband adoption characteristics. This not only includes typical attributes like price, types of technology used and types of applications, but also requires the Commission to focus on the actual data transmission speeds experienced by consumers, as well as the reasons why many consumers do not subscribe to broadband service.

Other agencies required to participate in data gathering include the Census Bureau, which is required to expand the American Community Survey to elicit information from residential households on computer use, Internet access, and whether such residents use dial-up or broadband service.

Then, the Comptroller General is required to conduct a study to consider and evaluate additional broadband metrics or standards that can be used by both the broadband service industry and the federal government to provide users with more accurate information about the cost and capability of their broadband connection. At a minimum, the study must consider potential standards for metrics that can be used to:

• Calculate the average price per Mbps of broadband service offerings;

• Compare the average actual speed with the advertised speeds of broadband service;

• Compare the availability and quality of broadband offerings in the U.S. with those in other industrialized nations; and

• Distinguish between complementary and substitutable broadband offerings in evaluating deployment and penetration.

In addition to this, the Small Business Administration is required to conduct a study evaluating the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses. One outcome of the study is to make policy recommendations that may improve small business access to comparable broadband services at comparable rates throughout all regions of the U.S.

The overall desire is that with this push from the top and the involvement of a number of federal agencies, as well as state and local entities, there will be a significant upward change in the coming years in broadband availability and adoption, especially in unserved and underserved areas, that will work to advance our position globally.

Speaking of change, this is my last In the Loop column. It has been my pleasure to write about wide and varied communications subjects, with a public interest slant, for more than 13 years. In that time, I have appreciated all of the comments I've received – all thoughtful, insightful, and some downright clairvoyant.

I’ll miss conversing with you in CED, but as always, I’m only a click away by e-mail and will continue to look forward to the annual “old home week” with colleagues at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. We all work in a tremendously fast-spaced and exciting field, so as I bid you a fond farewell, I also can’t wait to see what is next!


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