Free Press calls on FCC to share broadband subscriber data

The public-interest group Free Press is now calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to release its data on national high-speed Internet access.

While the FCC typically makes an analysis of that data available to reporters, Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner is pressing the agency to share with research all of its new broadband numbers.

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He emphasized in a statement early Tuesday that a full release is the only way to ensure the FCC is not "missing some key gems" about national broadband usage, accessibility and competition.

"When the FCC overhauled its broadband data collection practices back in 2008, there was much hope that the new information would be used to finally portray an accurate picture of the state of the U.S. broadband market and enable smarter policies aimed to promote competition and universal service," Turner said.

"We are simply asking that outside researchers and analysts be granted access to these data," he continued. "We believe this request to harness the collective power of the research community is consistent with [FCC] Chairman [Julius] Genachowski's commitment to run a fact-based, data-driven agency."

The numbers Free Press desires derive from Form 477, which Internet providers must submit to the FCC periodically.  Free Press believes a number of inconsistencies hamper numbers derived from those reports  -- from reporting errors that show rural areas with more broadband providers than is likely, to a series of ambiguities or redactions that warrant further clarification, they said.

Consequently, they formally requested the FCC share its nuanced raw data with researchers, provided those experts sign a confidentiality form and agree not to release information that would cause "substantial competitive harm," as FCC rules stipulate. The interest group said it was mostly hoping to conduct analyses on issues it believes the FCC has largely overlooked.

"The FCC should be applauded for its public recognition of the shortcomings of its analysis of this new broadband data," Turner said. "Some of these shortcomings might be explained with a better understanding of the Commission's methodology, but we strongly believe the underlying information has great analytical power that remains unharnessed."