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Feds Approve Broadband Data Improvement Act

 

Congress has passed — and President Bush has signed — the Broadband Data Improvement Act.  The Act, which had been pushed by Senate Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and supported by a coalition of organizations, such as the Communications Workers of America, has as its explicit purpose "to improve the quality of Federal and State data regarding the availability and quality of broadband services and to promote the deployment of affordable broadband services to all parts of the Nation."  

The legislation requires the Federal Communications Commission to "conduct annual studies on the status of broadband deployment throughout the country, in order to better assess the levels of residential computer and high-speed Internet use."  Under the Act, the feds will (1) collect demographic information for areas underserved by high-speed Internet services; (2) conduct a "Consumer Survey of Broadband Service Capability" which  requires collection of real-world information on what's happening with broadband services in the United states--including collecting data on the amounts consumers pay per month for their services and the actual data transmission speeds of such services; (3) provide in-depth international comparison of broadband service levels, speeds, and pricing; (4) create a study of the impact of broadband speeds on small business; and (5) provide grants to identify barriers to broadband adoption.

A Plan for Funding Partnerships in the States to Overcom the Digital Divide:  For states looking to overcome the digital divide, the Act will encourage private and public partnership efforts that identify barriers to broadband adoption. According to Connected Nations, under the the Act competitive grants will be given to "eligible entities" to:

  • Identify and track areas in each State that have low levels of broadband service deployment; the rate at which residential and business users adopt broadband service and other related information technology services; and possible suppliers of such services
  • Increase broadband availability by working with broadband providers and the public sector
  • Increase broadband adoption using grassroots demand aggregation
  • Conduct research to assess the barriers to technology use
  • Establish programs to improve computer ownership and Internet access for unserved areas and areas in which broadband penetration is significantly below the national average

Ben Scott, Policy Director for Free Press said, "our current broadband data collection system has had serious problems for years.  The absence of accurate information about the price, speed and availability of high-speed broadband has crippled our government's ability to advance innovative technology policies." Overall the Broadband Data Improvement Act is a good step, yet just a first step, in addressing the lack of access to and adoption of broadband in the United States.  The Act, by acknowledging the role state initiatives can play in increasing access to and adoption of broadband, provides positive momentum towards addressing the digital divide.