Next Century Cities signed comments submitted to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) along with New America’s Open Technology Institute and others. The comments were in response to a request by the NTIA for comments on their efforts to improve the accuracy and quality of broadband availability data.


The other signatories included Access Humboldt, the Benton Foundation, the Center for Rural Strategies, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Public Knowledge, and X-Lab.


The NTIA requested comments on broadband availability data — especially in rural areas — to comply with Congress’s Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. The law allocated $7.5 million to the NTIA with the purpose of updating the national broadband availability map.


We recommended that the government monitor broadband performance using factors such as price, speed, and congestion. The comments cited Measurement Lab as a good model for the government to follow for broadband availability data. Measurement Lab has partnered with member cities Seattle, Wash., Louisville, Ky., and Alexandria, Va., as well as the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to deliver data. One aspect of the Measurement Lab’s data-gathering technique that we suggested the NTIA could adopt is ensuring that servers are located outside of ISPs, ensuring that that the gathered data can be more representative of the consumer experience.


We also suggested that the government collect data on the barriers to broadband adoption such as pricing, perceived lack of relevance, and faulty service. The high costs of broadband access prevent low-income individuals from having a home internet connection, which leads them to rely upon mobile connections that often have data caps and can also be costly. We encourage the NTIA to put resources towards monitoring pricing to gain a more accurate idea of broadband availability.


Another suggestion was for the NTIA to build upon the Community Connectivity Initiative, which began in March 2016 as part of President Barack Obama’s ConnectALL Initiative. The Community Connectivity Initiative aims to give communities the resources to create and improve local broadband efforts. Our comments suggested that the NTIA put more money back into the Community Connectivity Initiative because empowering local communities would allow them to better determine their broadband needs.


NCC members Ammon, Idaho; Arvada, Colo.; Baltimore, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Kenmore, Wash.; and Seattle, Wash. are among the cities and towns that signed on to partner with the Community Connectivity Initiative program.


An additional recommendation made in the comments suggested the NTIA could better ensure quality broadband availability data by working with stakeholders that already have third-party data sets.


The NTIA can draw upon the examples set by their past work and third-party organizations to create better broadband data-gathering practices. We hope that the NTIA implements these recommendations in order to ensure better data is available, leading to more successful local broadband efforts.


Find the full comments here.

Anna Higgins is a 2018 summer intern for Next Century Cities and a candidate for a master of public policy at the University of Virginia.