Tag: "data"

Posted April 6, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

This week’s community broadband state legislative roundup revisits and provides updates on important bills moving through the state legislatures in Washington, Oklahoma, and California.  

The State Scene 

Washington 

We’ve been closely covering S.B. 5383 and H.B. 1336, two bills in Washington state that would give Public Utilities Districts (PUDs) and port districts the authority to offer retail telecommunications services.

Our initial coverage pointed out shortcomings in S.B. 5383. The bill originally contained a preemption clause that gave private Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to reject PUDs’ and ports’ project proposals in areas where incumbent ISPs claim they plan to expand service within six months. 

Since our last reporting on this piece of legislation, the bill was amended by the State House Community and Economic Development Committee, removing the veto authority initially given to existing ISPs. However, a new provision favoring incumbent cable ISPs was also added, which would prohibit a PUD or port from providing retail Internet services in an area where an existing provider offers service at a minimum of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 20 Mbps upload speed. The minimum speed requirements of this provision would be increased to stay consistent with Washington’s state definition of broadband.

The Committee also amended the bill to allow PUDs and ports to provide retail services in served areas, but only when building to reach an unserved region. 

H.B. 1336, which aims to allow PUDs, ports, cities, towns, and counties to provide Internet access services on a retail basis, was amended by Washington’s Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee on March 25 to increase the requirements that must be met by counties, cities, and towns before they...

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Posted December 17, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

Without good information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the federal government is essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to determining how to best target the allocation of resources for underserved and unserved communities. Even private sector investments are less efficient because of the lack of good data about broadband availability and pricing. That’s why the second major section of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, aims to address the nebulous nature of broadband data at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In this third installment of our series on the AAIA, we explore the ”Title II – Broadband Transparency” section of the Act, which requires the FCC to adopt rules to gather accurate and up-to-date information from ISPs about broadband service plan prices and subscription rates. It also requires the FCC to collect data that will allow the federal government to assess the resiliency of the nation’s broadband network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.

Better Data is Needed

Anyone who closely follows FCC news is already familiar with the problems associated with the agency’s broadband coverage maps, which most experts agree overstate actual broadband coverage. Though recent studies indicate there may be as many as 41 million people who lack access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum speed of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the FCC claims that number is closer to 18 million. It’s a big discrepancy with big dollar implications, as the coverage maps are the basis upon which agencies and states make major funding decisions.

The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here...

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Posted July 23, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

July has seen the release of two complementary reports which shed light on two of the topics we care about a great deal around these parts: availability and affordability of Internet access, and municipally-enabled networks.  

The Open Technology Institute at New America recently released “The Cost of Connectivity 2020” [pdf], which digs into the factors (some of which are explicit and others hidden) dictating how much Americans can expect to spend for Internet access in comparison to Europe, Asia, Canada, and Mexico. They conclude that, compared to the rest of the world, a lack of competition, regulation, and accurate data collection by the FCC has led to higher prices, slower speeds, exorbitant data cap fees, and deep digital divides running between those with high-speed access and those in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and low-income parts of American cities. And among its most compelling policy recommendations — based on data points from 296 standalone Internet plans in the United States — is that municipal networks offer a solution. 

If OTI’s report outlines the deep and persistent problem of connectivity in the United States, US Ignite and Altman Solon’s “Broadband Models for Unserved and Underserved Communities” [pdf] provides a clear and thoughtful roadmap for local communities who ask “What can we do?” Above all else, the guide shows that high-speed broadband is a solvable proposition, and sketches out five models for local governments to follow according to their unique conditions. Like the OTI report, US Ignite and Altman Solon highlight the many inherent benefits of community-enabled networks. 

Download the full reports at the bottom of this post.

Digging into the Data

The OTI report is based on data from 760 standalone Internet plans across 28 cities in North America, Europe, and Asia collected between June 2019 and March 2020 (though it also incorporates lessons learned from the current public health crisis). Across every type of connection (DSL, cable, and fiber) it found the U.S. to lag behind in at least one metric...

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Posted April 27, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the yawning gaps in broadband access throughout the country. Yet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in its 2020 Broadband Deployment Report released on April 24, found that “advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis,” in effect turning a blind eye to the students parked outside libraries to access Wi-Fi, housebound seniors cut off from telehealth services, and struggling businesses left behind by the economy’s move online.

The agency came to this conclusion despite years of concern over how the FCC’s flawed data collection method systematically overstates broadband coverage. “We need to do a better job collecting data,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai admitted nearly three years ago, adding, “It’s often said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

2020 Report Lacks 20/20 Vision

Every year, the FCC must report on the expansion of Internet access in the country and determine whether broadband is being deployed in a “reasonable and timely fashion.”

In this year’s report, the FCC said, “Given the compelling evidence before us, we find for the third consecutive year that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.” As support, the FCC noted:

The number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continues to decline, going down by more than 14 percent in 2018 . . . The vast majority of Americans — surpassing 85 percent — now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25.

This is a bold claim, considering the FCC has a tenuous understanding of where broadband is actually available. Everyone, from Congress and state governments to FCC commissioners themselves, agrees that the agency’s current method of collecting coverage information, Form 477, routinely exaggerates broadband availability. Since access is reported by census block, an entire block is considered served if only one house has Internet access. Furthermore, companies self-report the data with limited oversight, which lets providers...

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Posted October 15, 2019 by Lisa Gonzalez

When local communities apply for funding to improve local Internet infrastructure, grants and loans are often predicated on the need to deploy to unserved and underserved premises. Whether it's federal, state, or local sources, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data determining whether or not a region has access to broadband is often the data that funding entities rely on. In recent years, it’s become apparent that FCC data grossly understates the lack of accessibility to broadband. Finally in August 2019, the FCC called for comments as they reconsider how to collect fixed broadband data. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance teamed up with Next Century Cities and several other organizations with whom we often collaborate, submitted both Comments and Reply Comments.

Fixing the Bad Data

We’ve covered this before, and the Commission has now decided to make changes. Traditionally, FCC data on broadband Internet access has been collected from Internet service providers (ISPs) that self-report on the areas they serve via Form 477. If a company has the ability to serve one premise in a census block they report to the Commission that they serve the entire block. Reality, however, often does not reflect such a high level of connectivity in one area.

When FCC data incorrectly determines that locations have the ability to subscribe to one or more Internet access companies, those areas lose eligibility for grants and loans for Internet network infrastructure. Sadly, these places are often caught in a strange purgatory between faulty FCC data and reality in which they can’t obtain funding to build out high-quality Internet access, and yet large Internet access companies don’t consider their areas a good investment due to low population densities.

logo-ilsr.PNG For years now, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and other organizations have worked to bring attention to the problem. A few lawmakers have pushed for change and several states, including Georgia and...

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Posted November 26, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

When considering Iowa, what comes to mind? Open fields? Livestock? High-quality Internet access? According to the FCC, if you live in Iowa, your broadband problems are over. Of course, as ILSR Research Associate Katie Kienbaum points out in her recent piece in the Des Moines Register, the reality in the Hawkeye State is quite different than the FCC’s flawed stats report. The reason is the FCC’s infatuation with satellite Internet access — a view that has some real consequences for Iowa and its people. Read the piece in its entirety here or at the Des Moines Register:

 

FCC says satellite connectivity is good enough for rural Iowans. It’s not.

Everyone in Iowa has access to broadband, according to the federal government. In fact, two-thirds of Iowans can supposedly subscribe to at least three different broadband providers.

Surprised?

You should be. The hundreds of thousands of rural Iowans who struggle to get good connectivity are.

The sizable disconnect between federal statistics and reality is a result of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classifying satellite Internet access as high-speed broadband. Since every census block in Iowa has access to satellite connectivity, everyone is officially considered served.

However, by accepting satellite Internet access as “good enough,” the federal government is dooming rural Iowans to second-rate connectivity, effectively shutting them out of the modern economy.

Anyone stuck with Internet access from a satellite provider will tell you that it’s not true broadband. Speeds are much slower than cable or fiber, and high latency, or signal transmission time, makes it practically impossible to use for video or phone calls. On rainy days, you might not get service at all. This poor quality isn’t even reflected in the price. Satellite providers often charge more than other types of Internet access providers, while forcing subscribers to decipher complicated data plans and sign on to long contracts.

If we exclude expensive and unreliable satellite Internet access from the data, Iowa actually has much worse connectivity than the federal government claims. More than 10 percent...

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Posted September 25, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 35 percent of tribal residents do not have access to fixed broadband. In comparison, only 7.7 percent of all U.S. residents lack access to fixed broadband, defined as minimum speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

However, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that this disparity is probably even starker.

The report, prepared at the request of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, finds that the FCC’s broadband data is inadequate and inaccurate. As a result, the data overstate sbroadband availability nationwide, particularly in tribal areas. Additionally, the report notes that the FCC fails to engage tribes in the data collection process.

Bad data isn’t just a bureaucratic recordkeeping problem. Tribal communities can miss out on federal funding to improve connectivity in unserved and underserved areas if the FCC data shows that they already have access to broadband.

Reporting Methodology Overstates Access

For the most part, the FCC gets its information on fixed broadband availability through Form 477. Internet service providers (ISPs) submit the form twice a year, listing the census blocks they serve and the highest speeds they advertise.

This data collection methodology inherently exaggerates Internet access. Since ISPs report coverage by census block, an entire block is considered served even if the provider offers, or could offer, access to only one home.

logo-GAO.jpeg Many tribal lands are located in rural areas, the report notes, where large census blocks result in vast overstatements of broadband availability. Census blocks can also contain both tribal and non-tribal lands, further obscuring the extent to which tribal communities lack connectivity.

“Tribal lands are the canary in the coal mine,” Sascha Meinrath, an American Indian Policy Institute board member and Pennsylvania State University professor,...

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Posted August 23, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

If you live in Alamance County, North Carolina, here’s your chance to share your Internet access experiences with your county leaders. The county asks that as many residents as possible take a few moments to complete their Internet Speed Survey. As the realization spreads that FCC data on where broadband is available is deeply flawed, local communities such as Alamance County are asking their residents to supply that data directly for a more accurate picture.

Finding the Holes

“We really need help from our citizens filling out this survey,” [Assistant County Manager Roy] Walker said. “This is the first step in determining where the Internet holes are in the county and what Internet speeds folks have. The results will be mapped and publicly available [in 2019] in anticipation that county leaders and service providers will better understand the Internet needs of our citizens. The hope is that this survey facilitates more Internet access solutions, more coverage, faster speeds, and increased competition.”

The survey is quick and simple, consisting of only four questions relating to the type of Internet access, speed, and how much folks would be willing to pay for high-quality connectivity. Residents can access the survey online, but a paper version also went to property owners along with their property tax bills in July. The county Tax Office and all libraries in the county have paper copies that residents can complete and submit.

Alamance

The county is considered part of the Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point Combined statistical area, sitting directly east of and adjacent to Guilford County. Within Alamance County, the city of Graham is the county seat. Approximately 159,000 people live in the county, the bulk of which reside in the three largest towns of Burlington, Graham, and Mebane. Beyond the three cities, many of the communities in Alamance County are small, rural towns. Most rural communities in the county contain fewer than 1,500 residents.

The County Planning Board is developing a Comprehensive Plan, and has discussed adding broadband and telecommunications as a priority. While...

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Posted August 22, 2018 by Lisa Gonzalez

In this policy brief, we highlight the gulf between FCC broadband data for Rochester and what’s actually available to residents by examining local competition. Download the policy brief Broadband Competition in the Rochester Region: Reality vs Federal Statistics here.

Rochester Competition: Not All it Appears to Be

The city, home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, had previously considered building a municipal network, but the idea was dropped, in part because of the incorrect perception that enough competition already exists between Internet service providers. Our analysis and the corresponding maps reveal that broadband competition in the region is more limited than many realize.

The policy brief concludes:

“Overall, Charter and CenturyLink compete for the urban center of Rochester, while the rural areas rely almost exclusively on fixed wireless for broadband service. Even where residents have a choice in broadband, anyone looking for speeds in excess of 40 Mbps will almost certainly have to subscribe to Charter Spectrum. This is why more cities, especially those with municipal electric services, are considering how smart local investments can ensure more consumer choices and a working market for these essential services.”

Shortcomings of FCC Data

As we’ve covered before, the FCC collects data by census block, which incorrectly inflates broadband access and competition data. Internet service providers self-report and describe an entire block as “served” even if they can only connect one address in that census block.

We describe the problems with self-reporting in the policy brief:

“Large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities. Small providers often have trouble completing the FCC Form 477. . . Larger providers have plenty of staff to handle the form and seem to benefit the most from its flaws, as this data is often used to determine whether government programs should invest additional funds into an area, often by a competitive grant program....

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Posted August 22, 2018 by Katie Kienbaum

It’s no secret that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) broadband data is unreliable. Many people, including U.S. Senators, have pointed out how federal data collection methods overstate connectivity across the country. Rochester, Minnesota, is no exception. In this policy brief, we highlight the gulf between FCC broadband data for Rochester and what’s actually available to residents by examining local competition.

Download the policy brief Broadband Competition in the Rochester Region: Reality vs Federal Statistics here.

What’s Going On in Rochester

The city, home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, had previously considered building a municipal network, but the idea was dropped, in part because of the incorrect perception that enough competition already exists between Internet service providers. Our analysis and the corresponding maps reveal that broadband competition in the region is more limited than many realize.

Shortcomings of FCC Data

As we’ve covered before, the FCC collects data by census block, which incorrectly inflates broadband access and competition data. Internet service providers self-report and describe an entire block as “served” even if they can only connect one address in that census block.

We describe the problems with self-reporting in the policy brief:

“Large, de facto monopoly providers have incentives to overstate their coverage and territory to hide the unreliable and slow nature of their service in many communities. Small providers often have trouble completing the FCC Form 477. . . Larger providers have plenty of staff to handle the form and seem to benefit the most from its flaws, as this data is often used to determine whether government programs should invest additional funds into an area, often by a competitive grant program. Areas that appear to be well covered will not result in more investment, leaving the incumbent providers without fear of competition.”

In our analysis, we discovered evidence that at least one provider in Rochester had...

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