The Obameter

Change standards for determining broadband access

Will direct the Federal Communications Commission to "provide an accurate map of broadband availability using a true definition of broadband instead of the current 200 kbs standard and an assessment of obstacles to fuller broadband penetration."

Sources:

"Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan for Small Business"

Subjects: Infrastructure, Technology

Updates:

Broadband map started

Updated: Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 | By Lukas Pleva

It's been over a year and a half since we last reviewed President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to direct the Federal Communications Commission to provide an accurate map of broadband availability. In January 2009, we rated the promise In the Works, since the stimulus bill that Congress was considering at the time included a proposal for a "comprehensive, nationwide broadband inventory map." Obama signed the stimulus into law on Feb. 17, 2010, so we wanted to see how things have unfolded since then.

It turns out that the FCC voted to change the standards for how broadband access is measured back in March 2008. Before then, 200 kilobits per second was considered "high speed." Following the vote, the low end for "basic broadband" is 768 Kbps. The FCC also now requires Internet service providers to report both the data upload and download speeds and the number of subscribers, among other detailed metrics. 

So that part of the promise happened before Obama took office, which means our rating focuses solely on the promise to create a broadband map. 

That part of the promise is well under way. The stimulus bill appropriated $350 million for the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Department of Commerce. As of March 5, 2010, the NTIA has awarded 54 grants, totaling around $102 million. 

The money that comes from the grants will be used for broadband data collection and mapping activities. "Awardees will collect and verify the availability, speed, and location of broadband across the state. This activity is to be conducted on a semi-annual basis in the next two years, with the data to be presented in a clear and accessible format to the public, government, and the research community," according to the NTIA. Ultimately, the government plans to compile all of the state-level data to create and publish a national map of broadband availability by Feb. 17, 2011.

Critics of the program charge that it's too expensive and that the federal government is already distributing grants for broadband expansion projects, despite the map not being scheduled for release until early next year. Still, President Obama promised to direct the creation of a broadband availability map under new standards. Our research shows that the project is well under way. We rate this Promise Kept.

Sources:

National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Press Release: Commerce Department's NTIA Awards Grants for Broadband Mapping and Planning in Virginia and American Samoa, March 5, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, Getting to $787 Billion, Feb. 17, 2009

Associated Press, $100M-plus broadband map runs into cost questions, Sept. 14, 2009

CNET, FCC approves new method for tracking broadband's reach, by Anne Broache, March 19, 2008

New broadband map proposed

Updated: Thursday, January 15th, 2009 | By Angie Drobnic Holan

Certainly no one is happy that the U.S. economy is in such dire straits that policymakers are talking about a stimulus plan that could cost more than $500 billion. But an unintended benefit for Barack Obama is that the bill gives him a chance to make good on a number of his more expensive campaign promises.

Obama discussed the broad outline of his hopes for the bill in a speech at George Mason University on Jan. 8, 2009.

"It is not just another public-works program," Obama said. "It's a plan that recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment — the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as all around the country there's so much work to be done. That's why we'll invest in priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century."

Democrats in the U.S. House released a broad outline of what they hope to include in the 2009 stimulus bill and it contained many ideas Obama promised during the campaign, including money for a "comprehensive, nationwide broadband inventory map."

Granted, this is still a proposal, but it's concrete enough that we're moving the Obameter from No Action to In the Works.

Sources:

New York Times, Barack Obama speech on the economy at George Mason University , Jan. 8, 2009

U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Web site, Summary: American Recovery and Reinvestment , Report Text , and Bill Text, (pdfs) published and accessed Jan. 15, 2009

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