State telecoms regulators are broadband data takers, not makers anymore

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The data used to drive the California broadband availability map and similar state-level projects will reverse its flow. Carriers and ISPs, including the likes of AT&T and Comcast, will lump all their nationwide broadband availability information together and file it with the FCC, instead of submitting it state by state as they do now, where it’s vetted locally and then rolled up at a national level.

The change is due to the end of the original funding provided by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka ARRA, aka stimulus program). That money went to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and to state agencies, such as the California Public Utilities Commission, to collect and analyse broadband speed and availability, on a voluntary basis. But no more.

Going forward, the FCC will include advertised broadband service speed levels, by census block, and other data in the mandatory reports that Internet service providers submit twice a year, usually referred to as form 477 filings. There will be some differences in the data specs – the FCC wants specific speed numbers and not broadband ranges, for example.

State regulators can ask carriers to copy them on federal filings, but that’s not a given. So the some or all of the information might not be available to state regulators until the feds have finished processing it.

States will have less control over the quality and scope of the data submitted by carriers. That’s important because local and regional conditions differ across the U.S. State regulators are in a better position to spot dodgy claims, map spam and other tricks that big carriers can use to hide broadband service shortcomings and protect market positions.

California will not be completely defenceless. The CPUC will continue its broadband mapping program using money from the California Advanced Services Fund, and push ahead with its own field tests and subscriber-supplied reports. But primary responsibility for quality control of the base data is moving to Washington.