Broadband Mapping Key to Informing the USF Debate

By Raquel Noriega, Director Public Policy, Connected Nation

Legislating Broadband Policy panel at the 2011 State of Net Conference featuring John Branscome, Senate Transportation & Commerce Committee; Roger Sherman, House Committee on Energy & Commerce; Brian Hendricks, Senate Transportation , Science & Commerce Committee; Neil Fried, Energy & Commerce Committee; and Kim Hart, Politico Reporter and Moderator.

This week, broadband stakeholders gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss the country’s communications policy agenda at the 2011 State of the Net Conference. During a panel titled, “Legislating Broadband Policy,” key Capitol Hill staffers from both parties discussed the top communications policy priorities in the new Congress.

Both majority and minority professional staffers for the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the Senate Transportation, Science and Commerce Committee agreed that, where communications policy is concerned, there are a number of bi-partisan goals of the new Congress. The top areas where bipartisan opportunities for action exist include a review of spectrum policy in order to meet the National Broadband Plan’s objective of releasing 500 MHz of spectrum for private use (which should encourage innovation and broadband deployment as well as ensuring that the nation is well prepared to meet the challenges of public safety in the twenty-first century), as well as the Universal Service Fund reform and Intercarrier Compensation rules currently under review at the Federal Communications Commission.

Key areas of debate within the USF reform discussions include the types of services that should be subsidized within the USF program and which areas and communities should be eligible for subsidies. Should it be unserved areas where no service is currently offered, underserved areas, or areas where service may be available but at low speeds, or all of them? Either way, the key to effectively implement such programs will be based on data soon to be released by the Department of Commerce providing an inventory of broadband infrastructure.

Connected Nation is working with the Department of Commerce across 12 states and Puerto Rico to produce and update the national broadband map scheduled for release no later than February 17 of this year. This national broadband map will be a first of its kind. The rich data collected from broadband providers across the country will offer local, state, and federal policy makers an objective, reliable assessment of the current state of broadband inventory in every community across the country. This data will be essential to understanding the extent of the Universal Service challenge and to ably administer the new, reformed programs.

Connected Nation offers here some insights from broadband inventory data across the states we have mapped. The key lesson learned is that no state and no community is alike when it comes to the broadband landscape. For example, these data show many states (like Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina) have robust service at basic speeds, but are not in a position to meet the high-speed 50 Mbps to 100 Mbps levels of service anytime soon. Whereas other states (such as Texas, Minnesota, and Kansas) have relatively mature high capacity networks with more than 40% of households having access today to broadband of at least 50 Mbps download speeds.
Click on image to enlarge

Staffers from both sides of the aisle agree that this broadband mapping data will be essential to the implementation of a reformed USF program and the proposed Mobility Fund. Connected Nation looks forward to continuing to work with the federal government, state policy makers, and private stakeholders to update and continue validating these broadband inventory maps and placing this first-of-its-kind, rich dataset at the service of policy makers and broadband stakeholders.

Related Links:

Download ‘The State of the Broadband Market’ (pdf)
Blog: Broadband Infrastructure Varies Greatly By State

Blog: Connected Nation at 2011 State of the Net Conference: Day 1

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