On February 8, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) (FCC 11-14) in which it seeks comment on reforms to its Local Telephone Competition and Broadband Reporting Program, or Form 477 Program."1
The FCC proposes to reform the program as a part of a larger effort to streamline and modernize its data collection processes, and in response to recommendations by the National Broadband Plan that the FCC make revisions to Form 477 to more effectively collect data that reflects broadband "availability, adoption and competition."2
The proposals in the FCC’s NPRM could significantly expand the program to include new categories of data and extend certain reporting requirements to additional carriers.
Current Reporting Obligations
The FCC has collected data regarding broadband and telephone networks and services through the program since 2000. Form 477, which was revised in 2004 and again in 2008,3 requires certain providers to report particular subscribership and speed data to the FCC on a biannual basis. Wireline and terrestrial-fixed wireless broadband service providers report the number of subscribers they have at the census tract level by technology and at assorted speed tier combinations.4 They also report the percentage of subscribers that are residential. Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs) and cable providers report the percentage of their service areas where DSL connections or cable modem services are available. Terrestrial mobile wireless broadband providers report how many subscribers they have on a state-by-state basis and identify the census tracts that "best represent" their footprint at the various speed tiers in which they offer service. Interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers report the number of their subscribers in each state as well as the percentage of subscribers that are able to use the service over any broadband connection. They also report the number of their subscribers who purchased a broadband connection along with the VoIP service.
Who Must Report
To reduce the burden on providers, the FCC seeks comment on whether certain classes, like small broadband providers, should be exempted from reporting obligations. The FCC also questions whether it should expand its collection efforts to encompass new providers. Specifically, the FCC asks whether it should revise its definition of interconnected VoIP to encompass providers that may only allow customers to make calls to or receive calls from the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).5 The FCC also requests comment on whether satellite providers should be required to submit deployment data by identifying the areas where impediments or terrain may block their services.
Geographic Level of Data
Throughout the NPRM, the FCC questions whether requiring providers to report data related to deployment and their available services on a census block or address-by-address level would make it easier for providers to collect data and would provide a more accurate picture of the broadband and telephone services available. It also questions whether requiring providers to report on an even smaller scale, by wire center or study area, would be appropriate. The FCC requests comment on the privacy issues that may arise if it requires carriers to report at more granular levels.
Proposed Form 477 Data Categories
The FCC requests comment on whether collecting five specific categories of data would help improve its data collection efforts. These include: deployment, pricing, subscriptions, service quality, and ownership data.
The FCC relies on outside sources for deployment data and seeks comment on whether it should require carriers to submit such data as a part of the Form 477 program.
For fixed voice networks, the FCC requests comment on whether deployment data should only be collected for areas where deployment might be an issue (e.g. rural, insular, high cost or tribal areas).
For mobile voice networks, the FCC questions whether the maps it currently relies upon from commercial third party American Roamer create "a false sense of consistency," because they do not provide data on signal strength, bit rate, or in-building coverage. The FCC asks if it should begin requiring mobile carriers to submit data that demonstrate the range of signal strengths of their networks and the spectrum bands they use to provide service. It also requests comment on alternative third party datasets.
For fixed broadband networks, the FCC asks whether a mandatory collection effort would provide a useful supplement to the NTIA mapping program which relies on voluntarily collected data. In lieu of reporting advertised speeds as it currently collects, the FCC proposes requiring providers to report data showing actual speeds, a statistical sampling of average speed, data contention ratios,6 or other measures of network congestion. It also asks whether the current number of speed tiers should be reduced or whether the tiers should be defined by pairs of upstream and downstream speeds.
For mobile broadband networks, the FCC requests comment on how to account for signal strength variations. It also questions whether mobile providers should be required to report speed data.
The FCC also asks more general questions about how to collect spectrum usage data, and if data for anchor institutions, like schools, libraries, or hospitals, should be reported separately from other businesses.
The FCC requests comment on whether it should begin collecting price data from voice and broadband providers and whether it has the authority to do so. It questions if privacy concerns would preclude collection at a household or address level and whether census block or street segments would be more appropriate. The FCC suggests a number of different proposals for collecting the data, including requiring that carriers report the retail prices for their basic offerings or the price of a pre-defined basket of services. It also proposes requiring carriers to report which services they provide and the total revenue associated with all of their offerings so that the FCC could aggregate the data to determine the average price for each service in a given area. The FCC identifies several challenges inherent in collecting price data and asks how to deal with these issues, like assigning pricing to particular addresses and accounting for pre-paid plans, family plans, or pricing assigned to different groups.
At present, the FCC collects voice telephony and mobile wireless broadband subscription data at the state level and fixed broadband subscription data at a census tract level.
For mobile networks, the FCC seeks comment on how it can improve the collection of mobile subscribership data, including how to treat family and prepaid plans; if it should collect data by spectrum band, customer class and technology; whether it should distinguish between services offering voice-only or broadband-only; and if it should collect data on non-traditional devices like e-readers or telemetry systems.
For fixed voice networks, FCC asks if it should continue to collect data from carriers that show the percentage of their local exchange lines where they are the presubscribed interstate long distance carrier or that they provide over an unbundled network element platform. It questions if it would improve its data to distinguish among services that are sold on a stand-alone basis from bundled offerings. The FCC also asks whether it should collect information on the types of interexchange service plans subscribers purchase (e.g. per minute, bundles of minutes, or unlimited local and long distance). It requests comment on whether carriers should be required to distinguish among the types of loops that are provided to unaffiliated carriers under unbundled network elements, and whether carriers should begin submitting data on voice services that are provided by special access or other high capacity services and facilities that have been channelized.
For interconnected VoIP services, in addition to asking whether it should revise its definition of interconnected VoIP to include services that may only allow customers to make calls to or receive calls from the PSTN, it also requests comment on whether it should make distinctions based on the type of service the VoIP provider provides (e.g. nomadic or fixed; stand-alone facilities-based, stand-alone over-the-top, or interconnected VoIP bundled with broadband).
For broadband networks, the FCC requests comment on streamlining the number of speed tiers reported, requiring carriers to provide data that indicates the number of providers by technology, and requiring wireless providers to provide information about the spectrum bands they utilize.
The FCC currently only collects service quality data from carriers who are transitioning from a rate-of-return to a price cap regime. The FCC asks whether it should expand these efforts to collect service quality from all voice and broadband providers by collecting data on metrics about customer service, gross churn, or by directly measuring network performance. It requests comment on whether such data should be collected at the state, market, or carrier level, or at smaller geographic areas for aggregation purposes. The FCC also asks whether it should require voice and broadband providers (including switched and interconnected VoIP providers) to report the data required by ARMIS reports 43-05 and 43-06,7 and if so, whether only certain metrics required by these reports should be required of certain providers. It asks whether the disclosures that will be required by the Open Internet Order will provide sufficient information, and thus further service quality data is not needed from broadband providers. Ownership Data
Providers who currently submit Form 477 may consolidate their data for all of their operations within a state and may also determine at which organization level they want to submit their filings. The FCC requests comment on whether it should collect ownership data, including requiring that carriers report disclosable interest holders, as already required of wireless carriers who submit FCC Form 602, and report any branding the carrier uses in marketing and providing service. The FCC also proposes collecting reporting identifiers from carriers (e.g. the Physical System ID used by the Media Bureau for cable providers, the FCC registration number, or the Universal Service Administrative Company Study Area Code).
Additionally, because the FCC maintains only a voluntary reporting system for emergency contact information, it requests comment on whether it should collect a telephone and email address for each provider’s Network Operations Center (or functional equivalent) and how often such information should be collected.
The FCC also requests comment on whether it should begin collecting various other types of data from carriers, including data to assess socially and economically disadvantaged businesses and minority or women-owned businesses, data that will aid in comparing services provided by American companies to the international community (e.g. the cost of deploying broadband, data on technologies more prevalent in other countries, and data on applications used by residential consumers), and data that will allow the FCC to analyze services provided to tribal communities.
Timing of Filing Requirements
The FCC questions whether it should continue to require that reports be filed semi-annually on March 1st and September 1st. It asks if instead there should be quarterly collections, or if filings should correspond with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) State Broadband Data & Development Program requirements.8
Streamlining the Collection Process
The FCC requests comment on specific proposals for streamlining the data collection process. It asks whether Form 477 should be redesigned to allow parties to file data on multiple states, as well as if any technological tools, like the Census Block Conversion application programming interface, could be used to make reporting easier. It also requests comment on the use of third party and publicly available data to achieve its goals.
To address privacy concerns, the FCC asks whether carriers should continue to be able to check a box on Form 477 to request confidential treatment of data. Instead, the FCC seeks comment on whether certain data should be treated as always public, or whether the FCC should make certain data public on an aggregate basis, as it already does with subscription data. It also requests comment on whether certain data should be open to the researchers or should be deemed no longer confidential after a period of time.
Initial comments are due by March 30, 2011 and reply comments are due by April 14, 2011.