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Summary:

One of the biggest impediments to accurate broadband mapping is the unwillingness of carriers to share with mapping companies or the governments who employ them data on their service areas and speeds. The carriers tend to view such data as proprietary and as such, cite competitive […]

istock_000006279005smallOne of the biggest impediments to accurate broadband mapping is the unwillingness of carriers to share with mapping companies or the governments who employ them data on their service areas and speeds. The carriers tend to view such data as proprietary and as such, cite competitive reasons for not disclosing it. But the federal government is hoping that won’t last much longer. Larry Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Department of Commerce and the administrator for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is overseeing the creation of  a national broadband map, said today that carriers would eventually provide the data about their service areas because public pressure will help make carrier openness a reality.

“I think it is a new era, and I think that carriers will eventually get the message and come along,” Broadband Census quoted Strickling, who will also play a role in the NTIA’s distribution of $4.7 billion in broadband stimulus money, as saying. “We don’t really see this as being a huge problem longer term. But to get this thing started off, we need to protect that confidentiality, or at least give carriers the [option] of retaining that.”

While I agree that if the carriers provided better data, it would make the mapping process easier, I’m not inclined to believe that public pressure will gently mold carriers into benevolent, data-gifting entities, any more than I believed Verizon when it said that public pressure would be enough to ensure that carriers keep people’s web data private. We need laws. Carriers don’t want to share the data because then wed know exactly how uncompetitive the market for broadband is in most areas of the country — and armed with that knowledge, the government may have to figure out what to do about it.

By Stacey Higginbotham

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  1. I am totally with you on this. The big companies are afraid that if we knew how much they really make on broadband and how uncompetitive the markets are within certain speed/capacity ranges they know they would be regulated. We need an FCC that stands up to these companies and demands the data required to properly evaluate how monopolistic their presence is and regulates where there is no market pressure to hold prices down – not only in internet but in cable provision as well. Without a strong FCC the consumer in the midmarket is the one ends up paying through the nose for services they can get in other municipalities for a fraction of the price

    1. It’s not as sinister as all that. Carriers don’t share this data because they are giant bureaucracies (larger than the Federal Agencies they deal with) who don’t like to do anything beyond business as usual. The data itself is not centralized within the company and many layers of management that normally have nothing to do with each other would have to coordinate to compile it and review what should be made available.

  2. The above is incorrect. Carriers don’t want to share data because it would effectively be using government funds to do research for their competitors.

    Worse still, that data could be used, by the larger ones, to engage in precisely targeted anticompetitive practices that destroy smaller competitors.

    If you don’t believe that they’d do this, see

    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Shaw-Drops-Pricing-Bomb-To-Destroy-Local-Fiber-ISP-103670

    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/101661

    and

    http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/73694

    for some examples.

    I run a small, competitive ISP. The locations of our access points and the precise boundaries of our coverage area are very sensitive information. Given this information, a large competitor (e.g. an ILEC or cable company) with a good GIS database could literally target us with predatory pricing and “lock-in” contracts on a block-by-block basis. We’ve seen situations where an ILEC “hounded” a WISP, putting remote terminals in areas to which it expanded even though it was not profitable to do so.

    This is why the FCC allowed ISPs to opt to keep their Form 477 data private, and fought Drew Clark’s FOIA lawsuit (before he started “broadbandcensus.com”) demanding the release of Form 477 data.

    For the FCC’s own statements on this, see the deposition of Alan Feldman of the WTB at

    http://projects.publicintegrity.org/docs/telecom/telecomfoia/10.1%20Feldman%20Decl.pdf

    and also the FCC’s statement at

    http://projects.publicintegrity.org/docs/telecom/telecomfoia/09.1%20Statement%20of%20Facts.pdf

    The bottom line: Any census — whether it’s of people or of broadband — should be confidential.

  3. FCC orders studies, then relies on Teclo data after all | Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    [...] The FCC’s own deadline for acceptance of applications for broadband stimulus applications has arrived.  While a ton of money is being spent on studies, none will be completebefore the balnce of the money is spent. The FCC will continue to rely on Telco data to decide how stimulus money will be allocated. …..the government has decided to back off from its demands for quality data about current broadband access and speeds from a third party and instead rely on the telecommunications industry’s information. On Friday, the Department of Commerce, which is running the National Telecommunications Information Agency, declared that the broadband maps only needs to contain block-level data, not the address-level data for which consumers groups had hoped. And it said the maps don’t need to contain information about the actual speeds offered because the large telcos view such information as competitive and wouldn’t give it up. I told you so. [...]

  4. Hard Questions for the Broadband Stimulus Program – GigaOM Friday, December 18, 2009

    [...] had service.  That’s a slow process without a national broadband map, so it takes a while to prove if carriers serve a project area or [...]

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