For years, the Federal Communications Commission's broadband reports have been widely criticized for overstating U.S. broadband infrastructure penetration and presenting an overly optimistic national picture of broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas. As the 110th Congress nears its final days, Sen. Daniel Inouye calls upon lawmakers to approve a broadband mapping plan for the FCC.
WASHINGTON-With time quickly
waning for the 110th
Congress, Sen. Daniel Inouye again called upon
lawmakers Sept. 16 to approve legislation to improve the quality of federal
broadband data collection. As Inouye put it, "I believe we cannot manage
problems that we do not measure."
Inouye, the Hawaiian Democrat who serves as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee
on Commerce, Science & Transportation, introduced the Broadband Data
Improvement Act (S. 1492) in May 2007. Two months later, the Commerce Committee
unanimously approved the bill, but a Senate floor vote has yet to be scheduled.
Inouye's bill focuses on forcing the FCC (Federal Communications Commission)
to change its method for counting U.S.
broadband subscribers. For years, the FCC's reports have been widely criticized
for overstating U.S.
broadband penetration and presenting an overly optimistic national picture of
broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas.
"This is not about regulation or deregulation," Inouye said.
"This is about getting the facts, because from good information flows good
policy. So I hope in the remaining days of this Congress that the members of
this committee can work together to advance this bill in the Senate. Together
we can look back and say we understood that broadband matters and that we did
something about it."
Under Inouye's legislation, the FCC would be required to revise the agency's
definitions of broadband service and to identify tiers of broadband service in
which most connections can reliably transmit full-motion, high-definition
video. In addition, the bill requires the FCC to revise reporting requirements
to allow the FCC to identify actual numbers of broadband connections by
customer type and geographic area.
"Our broadband state is not what it should be," Inouye said.
"Though controversial in some quarters, rankings from the Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development show the United
States slipping down the international
broadband ranks. By some measures, Asian and European countries have high-speed
connections that are 20 times faster than ours and for just half the
In the last decade, broadband suppliers had to give the FCC the number of
subscribers an ISP had in a ZIP code. If a ZIP code had at least one subscriber,
the FCC counted that ZIP code as being served by a broadband provider. The
methodology has been criticized on all sides, including by the Government
Accountability Office, as poorly reflecting the true rate of broadband
The House has already approved legislation by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.,
which, like Inouye's bill, would expand the FCC's current ZIP code method. The
new data obtained by Markey's proposal would be used to create a national,
searchable map of broadband availability. The bill also provides $300 million
for grants to help deploy broadband in underserved areas of the country.
The legislation is modeled after the ConnectKentucky plan, a statewide
broadband mapping effort and community organizing initiative for unserved and
underserved areas. The Kentucky
initiative has increased the state's consumer and community knowledge of where
and what type of broadband is available down to a street-level degree of
Responding to pressure from lawmakers and public advocacy groups, the
FCC June 13 approved rules to require broadband providers
to report the
number of subscribers in a census track in addition to subscribers in a ZIP
code. The providers will also for the first time be required to report on the
speeds of the broadband service provided to customers. FCC Chairman Kevin
Martin said the new reporting methods would enable the FCC to better identify
and analyze the deployment of U.S.
Currently, the FCC sets the minimum speed for broadband definition as 200K bps,
a speed many other countries do not count as broadband. Under the FCC's new
rules, speeds of 200-768K bps will be counted as "first-generation"
broadband and speeds from 769K to 1.5M bps will be considered basic
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps welcomed the new reporting requirements, but
lamented that the agency took so long to change its methodology.
"These reports claim progress that simply did not reflect
reality," Copps said in June. "The data lacked a plausible definition
of broadband, employed stunningly meaningless ZIP code measurements concerning
its geographic distribution, ignored the prices people paid for broadband
completely and for years failed to look at what other countries were doing to
get broadband deployed to their people."
The new rules fall short of what Inouye and Markey are