Two FCC officials tried this week to drum up support for the commission’s plan to reform the Universal Service program by issuing a map they said “shows with striking clarity that large swaths of our nation are being bypassed by the broadband revolution.”
But some of us might not find that clarity to be as striking as purported.
The map–which accompanied a blog post penned by Sharon Gillett, chief of the FCC’s wireline competition bureau and Michael Byrne, FCC geographic information officer—appears to have been created using the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s interactive national broadband map, originally released in February and updated last month.
Originally that map drew substantial criticism—including some from Telecompetitor readers. The September update, based on data from December 2010, drew fewer critiques—although at least one telecom web site logged a substantial number of negative comments. Fortunately, the bloggers’ map draws on the more accurate December 2010 data.
The biggest problem I have with the blogger’s map, though, is that it doesn’t relate closely enough to the reforms the FCC is expected to propose.
First it uses a definition of broadband based on speeds of 3 Mbps or higher downstream and 768 kbps or higher upstream—a level that is a bit lower than the minimum 4 Mbps downstream, 1 Mbps upstream speed originally proposed in the National Broadband Plan and also lower than the 4 Mbps downstream- 768 kbps upstream speed recommended by the nation’s six largest telcos in the ABC Plan, upon which the FCC is expected to draw heavily for its proposed USF reforms.
Another issue is that the map color codes areas of the U.S. based on whether wireline broadband is “available,” “under-available,” or “unavailable.” (There is also a fourth category defined as “unpopulated.”) Yet USF reforms are not expected to target areas where broadband is “under-available”—and the bloggers don’t define what “under-available” means.
Presumably it means that some, but not all of the people in an area can get broadband at the minimum speed levels. But it doesn’t say what the cut-off percentage is.
Also, my understanding is that the reform proposal is likely to target broadband Universal Service funding at the wire center level. But although the bloggers’ map appears to depict data gathered on a fairly granular level, it doesn’t indicate whether data was compiled by zip code, wire center, census block or something else.