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[ NNSquad ] Re: Upcoming conference on "Broadband Census for America"


I'd like to respond to some of the issues raised by the recent e-mail of Brett Glass. (On Dave Farber's [IP], cross-posted to [nnsquad].)

With respect to the issue data confidentiality, it's important to separate out several issues here:

(1) The names of carriers and the locations in which they offer services, by ZIP code.

(2) The number of subscribers that carriers have in a particular ZIP code.

The Form 477 of the Federal Communications Commission requires that carriers submit both types of information to the FCC.

I agree that category (2) may well be confidential information. I do not believe that category (1) can be considered confidential.

The web site that I run, http://BroadbandCensus.com, is an attempt to combine information about broadband from various sources. In addition to "crowdsourcing" data from internet users, we are combining public information from the FCC's Form 477, publicly available information about carriers and where they offer services, as well information as from states and localities.

Since we launched BroadbandCensus.com in January 2008, we have had thousands of internet users provide the names of their providers, tell us where those providers are offering service, and take our beta speed test.

It is important to note that Form 477 data released by the FCC does _not_ include the names of the carriers. The FCC recently ordered carriers to begin to provide information on the census tract level, a geographical unit slightly smaller than a ZIP code. However, unless the FCC changes its policy, consumers will still _not_ be able to obtain carrier information from the agency.

Hence, the data that BroadbandCensus.com has from the FCC is extremely limited.

The data we obtain from carriers is a little bit better. Since the launch of BroadbandCensus.com, I have reached out to associations of small carriers, and dozens of them have voluntarily provided information about the ZIP codes in which they offer service. Several cable companies also make this information publicly available, although other large providers do not.

Who would benefit more from public disclosure about the locations, technology types, promised speeds and prices: small carriers or big carriers? I don't know.

Brett clearly feels that small carriers would suffer. I know of others who disagree with him.

With regard to the conference on September 26, 2008, that is being sponsored by BroadbandCensus.com, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas at Austin's Robert S. Strauss Center, and the Virginia Tech eCorridors Program, we plan to make the list of our panel speakers available within the coming weeks. Although space on the conference agenda is tight, the program committee is open to including others.

The goal of the conference, as stated on http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=331, is to "invite government officials, academic researchers and other key stakeholders to a half-day conference on collecting and sharing public data about high-speed internet access."

With regard to issue of the Freedom of Information Act that Brett raises:

It is correct that an organization for which I previously worked -- the Center for Public Integrity -- filed a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of the Form 477 database. As the suit proceeded, the Center dropped its request for data in category (2), and instead sought the data in category (1).

More information about the Center's lawsuit is available at http://projects.publicintegrity.org/telecom/report.aspx?aid=886

All of the major telecommunications carriers association intervened or filed amicus briefs on behalf of the FCC in this matter. Judge Ellen Huvelle ruled against the Center in August 2007, and again in October 2007.

Meanwhile, the momentum behind collecting and mapping better broadband data continues unabated. Indeed, the FCC is undergoing a proceeding on this very question. I blogged about this at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=195, and BroadbandCensus.com filed comments in the FCC's regulatory proceeding, at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=119

The gist of the comments is that the FCC should change its policy and publicly disclose data in category (1). BroadbandCensus.com has not filed any FOIA requests or lawsuits for broadband data.

If you want to get involved with BroadbandCensus.com, or with the "Broadband Census for America" Conference, please feel free to e-mail me at drew@broadbandcensus.com.

We want to make this discussion and debate as open and transparent as possible.

Drew Clark

On Fri, Aug 8, 2008 at 12:28 PM, Lauren Weinstein <lauren@vortex.com> wrote:

  [ Fears of anticompetitive or unfair tactics from the telephone
    and cable ISPs -- the same operations that anti-neutrality
    forces frequently argue should be left essentially unregulated?

        -- Lauren Weinstein
           NNSquad Moderator ]

------- Forwarded Message

From: David Farber <dave@farber.net>
To: "ip" <ip@v2.listbox.com>
Date: Fri, 8 Aug 2008 09:02:30 -0700
Subject: [IP] Re: Upcoming conference on "Broadband Census for America"

From: Brett Glass [brett@lariat.net]
Sent: Friday, August 08, 2008 10:10 AM
To: David Farber; ip
Subject: Re: [IP] Upcoming conference on "Broadband Census for America"

Dave, and Everyone:

Any such conference should include a discussion -- which includes some
small and independent ISPs -- of concerns regarding the disclosure of
the business information submitted by ISPs on the FCC's Form 477.

Many independent ISPs have declined to fill out the forms which reveal
the numbers of customers they have, where those customers are located,
and the types of service that they provide for fear of anticompetitive
actions by the telephone and cable companies. Given the Zip Codes where
a competitor is doing business, these large companies can precisely
target anticompetitive practices designed to undercut small competitors,
take their customers and potential customers, and lock them into long
term contracts so as to starve competitors of business. Also, since
many of the competitors rely on the ILECs to backhaul their data, the
ILECs can use the data to impose artificially high leased line prices
upon the competitors to drive them out of business. They may even cut
those competitors off from the Net altogether. While one would think
that such practices would be contrary to antitrust law and the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC has abdicated its authority
to ensure that the ILECs price access to essential facilities fairly.
The issue of anticompetitive "price squeezing" is also up in the air,
with many libertarian economists advocating that such behavior --
devastating though it is to competition and to consumer welfare -- not
be actionable. (The Supreme Court will consider AT&T v. LinkLine in its
next session, and if it rules against LinkLine in this critical case it
will give the ILECs a green light to wipe out competition.)

Initially, the FCC promised to help small companies avoid such practices
by keeping this highly proprietary data in confidence. But Drew Clark,
head of BroadbandCensus.com, has sued it under the Freedom of Information
Act to have this data released. As a result, many of those providers --
justifiably believing that it would imperil their livelihoods -- have
declined to fill out Form 477 and thus have hurt the accuracy of the FCC's
broadband survey.

Hopefully, a compromise can be reached in which ISPs can contribute to
a "broadband census" without compromising their extremely sensitive and
proprietary data. But oddly, the literature on the upcoming event available
at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=331, does not mention participation by
any ISP, nor does it suggest any consideration of their concerns. It just
makes sense that if one wants to foster broadband deployment, ISPs -- who
are intimately aware of what is necessary to do it -- should be involved
in crafting the policies that make it happen.

- --Brett Glass, LARIAT.NET

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------- End of Forwarded Message

Drew Clark
Executive Director


Daily news now available at http://BroadbandCensus.com

Recent stories: "New York City and State Each Craft Broadband Policies; City Nixes Muni Wi-Fi," at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=320

"Relaunched Oklahoma City Wi-Fi Network Showcases City-Services Model," at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=306

NEW! "Announcing a Half-Day Conference About Universal Broadband Data on September 26, 2008," at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=331