Last week, the NTIA asked the FCC to release an important database containing broadband coverage data. The database contains information from high-speed internet providers on the areas they serve based on data collected through a required FCC form (Form 477). This form collects information about broadband connections (among other things) to end-user locations in individual states.
The NTIA says it wants access to the data in order to “validate the unserved or underserved classifications of the BTOP applicants’ proposed funded service areas,” although it also vows to protect certain confidential “trade secret” information to the degree it is able.
This request raises certain “chicken and egg” questions with regards to validating “underserved areas”–the focus of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). $350 million was originally allocated to create and maintain a comprehensive national broadband map. This, in theory, would tell NTIA strategist where to focus efforts and resources.
However, the mapping project will not be completed until late 2010 (or later). And the NTIA must publish a national broadband strategy plan by the first quarter of 2010. As such, the NTIA is seeking to rely on this FCC/carrier information to help guide its decisions.
This means, either the NTIA will be making national broadband strategy decisions based on grossly incomplete information, or it will receive sufficient information on coverage from the carriers through this database and the $350 million is an unnecessary expense. Either conclusion puts the NTIA in a difficult spot.
It will be interesting to see how the carriers respond to this request. And it will be even more interesting to see what the NTIA decides to fund early in the new year. Stay tuned for new developments as they arise.
All the best,