On September 21, 2017, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) filed comments in response to the FCC’s Thirteenth Section 706 Report Notice of Inquiry (NOI), “Concerning Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion”. Here is a PDF of those comments – NDIA Comments – Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications 9-21-17

NDIA offered the following specific comments. (Comments 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8 are discussed in greater detail in the filed comments.)

  1. (re: NOI paragraphs 12, 14, 32) The Commission should not reduce or dilute the speed benchmarks which it uses as indicators of the availability of fixed advanced telecommunications capability to local areas, nor should it change the reporting areas for these benchmark indicators in any way that would make the resulting data less granular.
  2. (re: NOI paragraphs 6, 10, 17, 18, 19) In judging and reporting whether advanced telecommunications capability has been deployed in local areas, the Commission should not conflate mobile wireless Internet access with fixed broadband services, especially if the Commission adopts a mobile speed benchmark which is lower than its fixed broadband speed benchmark.
  3. (re: NOI paragraphs 6, 10, 17, 18, 19) To the extent that LTE or similar wireless broadband technologies provide documented Internet access for local reporting areas at data speeds which match or exceed the Commission’s fixed broadband benchmark, it may be appropriate to report that information separately and consider it as part of the Section 706 inquiry. It may also be helpful to the Commission and public to seek, and report separately, information regarding the maximum download and upload speeds available to reporting areas from various fixed and mobile technologies, not just the fastest. (Much of this detail is already collected in the Form 477 reporting process, and until recently was available to the public via the National Broadband Map.)
  4. (re: NOI paragraphs 6, 10, 17, 18, 19) But if mobile wireless services are to be included in the Commission’s Section 706 reporting and in the Commission’s evaluation of whether advanced telecommunications capability has been deployed in local areas “in a reasonable… fashion”, the monthly data limitations and data pricing characteristics of those services must also be reported and considered.
  5. (re: NOI paragraph 36 ) The Commission should not adopt USTelecom’s proposal to focus its annual Section 706 inquiry on year-over-year increases in deployment, rather than the extent of remaining gaps in that deployment.
  6. (re: NOI paragraphs 31, 34, 35) The Commission’s consideration of whether advanced telecommunications capability has been deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion” must take into account the cost of access, whether that cost is a barrier to access for a significant number of households, and whether that cost of access is being increased by unreasonable or anti-competitive policies and practices. In particular, we ask the Commission to consider the situation of inner city residents of some cities in AT&T’s service area, whose fixed broadband service choices are limited to very expensive cable modem service or very slow (but still expensive) ADSL service, because AT&T has chosen not to deploy its faster, fiber-enhanced mainstream VDSL service in certain neighborhoods.
  7. (re: NOI paragraph 31) The Commission’s consideration of whether advanced telecommunications capability has been deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable… fashion” must take into account the rate of adoption of those services in different types of locality (rural, city, suburban, tribal) and classes of consumer, e.g. low-income households. We caution against simplistic comparisons of “urban” or “metropolitan” to “rural and tribal” in this type of evaluation. Low income urban neighborhoods often have very different broadband access and adoption situations from those of nearby middle-income suburbs.
  8. (re: NOI paragraphs 48, 49, 50) The Commission should investigate the apparent deliberate “digital redlining” of certain urban neighborhoods by one or more providers and its impact on the reasonable deployment of advanced telecommunications services in those neighborhoods. To the extent that investigation confirms that any provider has deliberately failed to deploy advanced services due to the income characteristics of neighborhoods, the Commission should take direct, aggressive regulatory action to remedy the situation.
  9. (re: NOI paragraphs 48, 49, 50) NDIA observes that a significant share of recent competitive deployment of high-speed broadband services to underserved Americans is the result of municipal or nonprofit community initiative, rather than new private-sector market entry. In the same way that the Commission seeks to reduce ostensible state and local regulatory barriers to private investment in new high-speed broadband deployments, the Commission should also seek to eliminate barriers and provide encouragement to municipal and community broadband initiatives – for example, by using its influence to discourage state legislation intended to prevent or constrain broadband investments by local governments.

Discussion of specific comment #7 includes:
From the most recent Form 477 Census Tract Data on Internet Access Services, here’s a comparison of fixed home broadband adoption levels for Cleveland Census tracts with the adoption levels for all tracts in Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties identified as rural by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy — as well as for all FORHP-identified rural tracts in Ohio with poverty levels comparable to Cleveland’s.

The data shows fixed broadband connection rates below 40% of households in nearly two-thirds of Cleveland Census tracts.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that Cleveland households are significantly less likely to have high speed fixed broadband connections than households in rural Appalachian Ohio (a region whose very real broadband gaps have been featured recently in Time and elsewhere), or than households in high-poverty rural areas throughout the state.

Share Of Households With Fixed Internet Connections At 10+ Mbps Downstream By Census Tract – Appalachian And Low-income Rural Ohio Compared To City Of Cleveland

Shares of households with 10 mbps+ Internet connections by Census tract – FCC Form 477 Census tract data for June 2016
Rural Census tracts — Federal Office of Rural Health Policy, List of Rural Counties And Designated Eligible Census Tracts in Metropolitan Counties, https://www.hrsa.gov/ruralhealth/resources/forhpeligibleareas.pdf
Census tracts with individual poverty rates above 25% – American Community Survey 2015 Five Year Estimates, Table S1701