A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate this week would require the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to reconsider what bandwidth rates qualify as broadband, a move that won praise from some groups that call current broadband penetration statistics misleading.
Senator Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced the Broadband Data Improvement Act Thursday along with five Democratic cosponsors. The bill would require the FCC to re-evaluate whether 200Kbps is sufficient bandwidth to justify being called broadband, and it would require the agency to create a new measurement, known as second-generation broadband, to identify networks' capability of transmitting high-definition video.
The bill would also require broadband providers to report availability of broadband and second-generation broadband connections within smaller geography areas than the postal zip codes the FCC now uses to measure the availability of such services.
In January, the FCC reported that broadband providers offer service in 99 percent of U.S. ZIP codes, but critics have called the FCC statistics misleading. A broadband provider has to serve only one residence in a zip code for it to be counted by the FCC. The U.S. had 64.6 million broadband lines in mid-2006, up 24 percent from the end of 2005, according to the FCC.
Many tech groups argue broadband is a major driver of the U.S. economy. On Thursday, a new group called the Open Internet Coalition, made up of e-commerce businesses and consumer groups, called for Congress to develop a national broadband policy aimed at making high-speed, low-cost service available to all U.S. residents.
The bill will help Congress where to focus its broadband policies, Inouye said.
"The first step in an improved broadband policy is ensuring that we have better data on which to build our efforts," Inouye said in a statement. "In a digital age, the world will not wait for us. It is imperative that we get our broadband house in order and our communications policy right. But we cannot manage what we do not measure."
The bill would also direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to develop broadband metrics on cost and speeds that can be used by consumers. The bill would require the FCC to conduct inquiries into broadband deployment on an annual, rather than periodic, basis.
Public Knowledge and Free Press, two advocacy groups that are members of the Open Internet Coalition, praised Inouye's bill.
"With this bill, we would finally be able to answer key questions the Federal Communications Commission has ignored for too long," Ben Scott, Free Press policy director, said. "We would have granular data about broadband availability, adoption, cost, and speed at a local level across the country. This information is invaluable."
The Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group representing telecom suppliers, also praised the bill. The legislation will "help to ensure that Americans have access to affordable and reliable broadband services," the group said in a press release.