Consumer Advocates Press For Details About Broadband Lines

A coalition of consumer groups and broadband advocates are asking the Federal Communications Commission to collect information about broadband availability on a more granular level than in the past.

Specifically, the groups are asking the FCC to require that Internet service providers report what type of broadband connections are available to consumers at the census block level. In the past, ISPs reported such data by ZIP codes.

The FCC is currently gathering data that will be used to create a national broadband plan, which the agency must submit to Congress in February.

"This data is critical to ongoing FCC policy on broadband," the groups stated in a letter sent Tuesday to FCC chair Julius Genachowski. The organizations also asked that the data be made public. The letter was signed by representatives from Free Press, Consumer Federation of America, New America Foundation, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Consumers Union.

Last year, the FCC modified the form it sends to ISPs by requesting data at the "census tract" level -- which is more granular than ZIP codes, but less so than blocks. But broadband advocates say that gathering information at the block level is critical to evaluate the current state of Web access. "It's the standard unit used by social researchers," says Harold Feld, legal director at Public Knowledge. "It's a sufficient level of detail to gather data to observe meaningful trends."

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The groups also asked the FCC to look at data such as price, capacity and speeds. "In particular, the FCC should also seek to find a way to measure and collect data concerning the actual speed of broadband connections, as opposed to advertised speeds," the groups wrote.

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