Wednesday, April 23, 2008

FCC to Require Improved Reporting of Broadband Deployment and Subscribership

By and large, regulators have allowed communications companies to decide where and when they will deploy the service and what they will charge for it. The lack of accurate information regarding geographic deployment of broadband infrastructure and subscribership within local communities frustrates efforts to assess whether sufficient progress is being made toward achieving affordable, universal broadband access for all.

It is difficult to obtain detailed information regarding broadband infrastructure deployment and subscribership data in areas where broadband service is available. Typically, providers of broadband service have been secretive about where they have built their systems, where they are deploying services, and how many persons in any particular area are actually buying broadband service when it is available. Questions have been raised about "redlining" in broadband deployment which results in lower income areas lacking access to high speed internet service, placing them at a further economic, educational, and informational disadvantage. See Broadband 'Redlining' Issue Raised In Fiber Deployment.

Some states have adopted initiatives to increase access to broadband in areas bypassed by the major providers. For example, California has a $100 million Advanced Services Fund to promote broadband services in unserved areas of California. New York State has a Council for Universal Broadband, a 28 member public/private task force working to develop new state strategies to achieve universal, affordable, high speed internet access.

The FCC recently announced that it will gather more data to measure broadband availability, a vital step which will assist in determining where to focus initiatives to address the “Digital Divide.” Specifically, the FCC will now require broadband service providers to report every six months on the number of broadband users, by census tract, broken down by speed and technology type.

This is a welcome step that may assist New York and other states in assessing what needs to be done next to expand the availability of broadband service in geographic areas where it is not yet deployed, to remove barriers to subscribership, and to improve affordability of broadband service for lower income persons.

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