Providing universal broadband may very well start with simply finding out who has broadband access and who doesn't. The House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that could help answer that question by improving broadband data collection.
Passed unanimously in the Senate on Thursday, the Broadband Data Improvement Act now awaits the president's signature. The legislation, introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, in 2007, calls for the Federal Communications Commission to collect a broader swath of information regarding who has broadband access.
"We cannot manage what we do not measure," Inouye said. "This bill will give us the baseline statistics we need in order to eventually achieve the successful deployment of broadband access and services to all Americans."
The bill requires the commission to redefine broadband. In April, the commission voted to consider 768Kbps, which is the entry-level speed offered by major DSL providers like Verizon, the low end of "basic broadband," a range that extends to under 1.5Mbps. For years, the commission had considered 200Kbps service to be "high speed."
Internet service provider reports to the FCC would also have to be adjusted under the bill, so the FCC can identify the actual numbers of broadband connections by customer type and geographic area. The commission would also be required to identify tiers of broadband service in which most connections can transmit high-definition video, as well as collect demographic data for geographical areas not served by any advanced telecommunications provider. The bill also requires other government offices to collect information, such as whether Internet subscribers use dial-up or broadband.
The bill also establishes a grant program for organizations to track and promote Internet usage.
"With this legislation, the Senate has taken a crucial step toward a national broadband policy," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a media reform organization. "The data collected would lay the foundation for policies in the next Congress to promote universal, affordable high-speed Internet access for all Americans."