FCC seeks help in defining what 'broadband' means

The Federal Communications Commission is developing a National Broadband Plan under the stimulus law to ensure universal access to broadband Internet service. But first things first: What does “broadband” mean?

The FCC has issued a notice seeking “tailored comment” on what it calls “a fundamental question: how the Plan should interpret the term ‘broadband’ as used in the Recovery Act.”

“If we want to decide who has and who does not have broadband, we actually need to agree on what we mean by broadband,” an FCC blog said in explaining the notice.

The FCC is required to create the National Broadband Plan by Feb. 17, 2010, and issued a notice of inquiry in April seeking input on the development. Under the plan, grants will be provided by the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In the original notice of inquiry, it was noted that “broadband can be defined in myriad ways.” The current notice seeks to narrow that by specifying the general form, characteristics, and performance indicators that should be included in a definition of broadband; the thresholds that should be assigned to these performance indicators today; and how the definition should be reevaluated over time. FCC noted that there could be multiple definitions of broadband.

To disseminate information about the evolving broadband plan and foster dialogue, FCC this week launched a new blog, called Blogband, to chronicle development of the plan and invite comment. The FCC also is launching a Twitter channel to report progress on the National Broadband Plan.

FCC’s Carlos Kirjner, writing in Blogband, explained the need for a well-crafted definition of broadband. “Much of the recent debate tends to center on throughput speeds,” he wrote. “Engineers know that these numbers by themselves are most often misleading. For example, in most cases the ‘advertised’ throughput speed has a tenuous relation with the actually delivered speed, which will actually vary over time, depending on the application, the server, and many other factors.”

Additionally, other performance metrics, such as latency, are crucial for some applications such as voice and videoconferencing.

To effectively make broadband access available, we need to know what service customers are actually getting today, and the gap between that and what they need for specific applications, he said. We need to understand the overall gap between where we are today and where we want to be to establish a cost for the program, and metrics are needed to ensure that consumers have a clear idea of what they are getting for their money.

“Bottom line: this is important,” Kirjner wrote. “We want your input.” The public notice “looks like a document written by lawyers to lawyers, but in there, there are some important questions for the country.”

Filings can be hand delivered, sent by commercial overnight courier, or by U.S. Postal Service mail (although FCC continues to experience delays in receiving USPS mail). Filings should be addressed to the Commission's Secretary, Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission. Paper filings must include an original and four copies of each filing.

Hand-delivered or messenger-delivered paper filings should be sent to 236 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Suite 110, Washington, DC 20002. Filing hours at this location are 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Any envelopes must be disposed of before entering the building. Commercial deliveries should be sent to 9300 East Hampton Drive, Capitol Heights, MD 20743. USPS mail should be addressed to 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20554.

Comments also may be filed electronically through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/) or the federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov).

Comments also can be e-mailed. Send an e-mail to ecfs@fcc.gov with “get form” in the body of the message to get filing instructions for e-mail comments. A sample form and directions will be sent in reply.

All comments should refer to GN Docket Nos. 09-47, 09-51, and 09-137, and be titled “Comments (or Reply Comments) – NBP Public Notice #1.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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