Congress wants to build a map of America’s broadband service

Congress has signaled that it may be ready for Internet reform that some consider desperately needed, as it has given the go-ahead on two different but important broadband bills.

The Broadband Census of America Act of 2007 has so far made the furthest progress, passing the House in a voice vote last Tuesday. More formally known as H.R. 3919, the Broadband Census of America Act mainly seeks to perform a thorough survey of America’s existing broadband services.

The FCC is ordered to conduct annual assessments on broadband deployment statistics, and aggregate them in a fashion which compares them to other parts of the country, as well as countries. Additionally, the FCC is also required to periodically survey consumers and examine the real-world speeds they experience as well as what applications they use with said service.

H.R. 3919 also requires the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to maintain a “broadband inventory map” that shows broadband availability geographically, from both public and private service providers. Local “technology planning entities” – city committees, academic, and commercial institutions – are invited to assist with this process, and subject to available funding, may be offered grant money to assist with the assessment process.

More importantly, this broadband map would need to be available to anyone over the internet and identify the broadband offerings of an area down to individual ZIP+4 codes.

S. 1853, a.k.a. the Community Broadband Act of 2007, recently made it through the Congress’ Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. S. 1863 seeks to assist municipalities trying to launch public/private broadband networks similar to Google’s municipal Wi-Fi project, by classifying such networks as public utilities and prohibiting local or state government statutes from regulating or otherwise interfering with the process of building and providing public broadband service.

By reclassifying the municipal broadband as a regulated utility, the bill’s supporters  – which include the likes of Google, Intel, as well as Senator Ted “Series of Tubes” Stevens  – hope that municipalities and rural communities that wish to implement their own broadband service can do so unimpeded by competing corporate interests.

Recent reports indicate that S.1863 should soon be scheduled debate within the Senate.

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