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  • Today, a major digital divide exists between thosewho have access to high-speed Internet and those who lack access and/ or thecapability to use, high-speed Internet. Too many Americans, especially those inrural areas or low-income households do not have any Internet access, let alone high-speed Internet access. Mapping high-speed Internet availability andadoption, and making that information accessible to the public is an important tool for legislators and local planning groups that wish to evaluate thecurrent status of their states’ high-speed Internet infrastructure and utilization. Such information iskey when determining where to dedicate future resources when developingdeployment strategies.

     

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—the federal government agency tasked with mapping high-speed Internet infrastructure and consumer access—has been under attack for years by critics who claim that its high-speed Internet data collection methods are flawed.

    While the FCC was hesitant to change its policies, state lawmakers took matters into their own hands.

    Recently, and in large part due to the momentum of state mapping legislation, the FCC finally voted to approve a new high-speed Internet data collection plan, focused not only on high-speed Internet availability, but also on adoption.  Among other things, the FCC will require all carriers to report the number of subscribers by census tract, broken down into speed categories, and separated by residential versus business usage.  Despite the upcoming improvements in data collection by the FCC, certain important information, such as pricing data, is still not be collected.  Further, service providers underlying data will continue to be considered confidential. 

    For complete information regarding high-speedInternet availability and adoption, the following information should becollected:

    • Map high-speed Internet availability: Distinguishing different speed tier offerings, pricing information, and different service providers.
    • Collect data that can be utilized to address adoption and digital divide issues: Data is more helpful if collected at the census block, because it become easy to overlay high-speed Internet access with other census demographic information. Additionally, it is important to collect information about not only who has access to high-speed Internet, but which demographics choose to purchase such services.  This will make it easier to determine which residents are not educated on the benefits and necessity of high-speed Internet and therefore choose not to subscribe.  Lastly, the data collected should be designed to facilitate local community planning groups.  
    • Distinguish between residential and commercial properties.
    • Allow for some form of public disclosure of collected data and ensure if a third party is contracted to collect the data, that an oversight and accountability system is established: Accurate data and access to that data by researchers is critical to the development and execution of good policies.  Legislators should require telecommunications, cable and other high-speed Internet service providers to file their underlying data with either a public utilities commission or have a third party organization authentication and review the data. 

    Some states, such as WashingtonState, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, WestVirginia and Kansas, have created state high-speed Internet mapping programs either through executive order or legislation. These mapping programs have and will continueto pave the way for community leaders and lawmakers to develop more efficienthigh-speed Internet deployment strategies that focus on both increasedavailability and adoption. In the future, if more comprehensive information was collected, policymakers andcommunity organizations could better address the digital divide and lack ofbroadband competition in their states.

    Most existing high-speed Internet mapping programs could be improved by relaxing the strict confidentiality provisionsthat typically prevent the public release of data collected from high-speedInternet service providers. Many advocates and community organizations feel that without some form of public access to the collected data it is hard to hold providers accountablefor the information provided or for researchers to assess the results of state and federal policies in expanding access to and adoption of broadband.  California is the only state where underlying mapping data was authenticated and analyzed by a third party entity. The California taskforce alleviated service providers’ concerns that any public release of theirunderlying high-speed Internet infrastructure data would be given as tradesecrets to competitors negatively affecting their business, by having datacollected by a third-party agency, not the public.

    State efforts should therefore focus on mapping the data that the FCC is missing, creating user friendly websites thatwill allow the public access to the data collected, using the federally collected data to develop deployment strategies and working with serviceproviders to establish a data authentication process.

    Resources:
    FCCMapping Order
    ProgressiveStates, Mapping and Deploying High-Speed Internet
    California Broadband Taskforce

    Communication Workers of America -SpeedMatters: Affordable High-Speed Internet for All
    Connected Nation

    Brief description:
    Teaser:
    Today, a major digital divide exists between thosewho have access to high-speed Internet and those who lack access and/ or thecapability to use, high-speed Internet. Too many Americans, especially those inrural areas or low-income households do not have any Internet access, let alone high-speed Internet access. Mapping high-speed Internet availability andadoption, and making that information accessible to the public is an important tool for legislators and local planning groups that wish to evaluate thecurrent status of their states’ high-speed Internet infrastructure and utilization. Such information iskey when determining where to dedicate future resources when developingdeployment strategies.