FCC Releases Broadband-Data Order

Federal Communications Commission Releases Final Order on Expanding, Refining Collection of Data on Broadband Service

The Federal Communications Commission released the final order on its March decision to expand and refine its collection of data on broadband service.

The FCC is creating new categories of upload and download speeds to better identify the quality of the service being provided -- how much of that service can support advanced applications like high-resolution video, for example.

It will also require reporting from wireless operators with subscribers that can browse the net with their phones and other devices, and it will ask voice-over-Internet-protocol companies to report their customers, as well.

Congressional and FCC Democrats have long been critical of the pace and character of the broadband rollout, even pushing legislation that would force the FCC's hand. House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Energy & Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) are concerned that rural and poorer areas are not getting the service as quickly as wealthier ones -- hence the desire for a detailed map of just who is getting what and where.

They were also concerned that the FCC's broadband data did not accurately reflect what they saw as the country's declining position in the international rankings of broadband penetration.

In a separate decision, the FCC also modified its modification to include a more detailed accounting of residential broadband service, which the commission said would help it to foster growth of broadband service.

Wireless and wired broadband providers, which includes cable and satellite, will have to provide subscriber figures, as well as the percentage of those that are residential customers, and do so at the Census Tract level (subdivisions of a county).

One of the complaints from Congress and elsewhere had been that the commission based its penetration figure on ZIP codes. That sounds even more granular than a Census Tract, but the FCC counted an entire ZIP code as having broadband access even if a provider had only one customer. For example, as of 2007, FCC figures showed that more than 99% of ZIP codes had some broadband connections, which critics of the data said overstated the case.

The request for the more granular data had been made by the strange bedfellows of phone giant AT&T and activist group Free Press.

The more specific information will be required of broadband providers large and small. Although the FCC recognized the additional burden that data collection imposed, the agency concluded that it was outweighed by the value of the data.