FCC Denies Broadband Data-Confidentiality Requests

FCC shield on phone
(Image credit: Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The FCC is definitely not going to give broadband providers’ data-collection methodology confidential treatment unless they come up with different reasons than the ones being offered up by dozens of providers, according to agency documents.

The Federal Communications Commission requires providers to give it data on how they determine where service is offered — its Broadband Data Collection (BDC) initiative — so the commission can come up with a better handle on where billions of broadband subsidy dollars need to go.

Congress has been highly critical of the availability data. The FCC has also conceded it needs to be better and is under pressure to make it so.

In dozens of orders responding to the requests, the chief of the FCC’s Wireline Bureau, Kirk Burgee, said the argument that the providers’ fixed-broadband coverage methodology data is “highly sensitive in that it contains statements about the Company’s broadband network and service provision that is not generally publicly available” does not warrant that special treatment.

Also: FCC Slates Broadband Data Collection Webinar

The FCC had told providers that the methodology should be public “subject to individual requests for confidential treatment of this information,” but a check of more than two dozen such requests found that the regulator had denied all of them.

“The aim of the BDC is not only to provide this information to the Commission, but also to make such data available to the public for purposes of validating and challenging the accuracy of service providers’ submissions,” the FCC told the providers. Thus, giving the public access to how everyone determined where broadband was or wasn’t will “maximize the effectiveness” of that process.

Under chair Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC created www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData as both a place for the public to weigh in — via a “share your broadband experience” option — and a clearinghouse for information on its Broadband Data Collection BDC) program.

The FCC, in denying the requests, suggested providers wouldn’t be put at a competitive disadvantage, given that everyone is required to report methodology data and make it public.

It said the providers who sought confidentiality — and there were a lot of them — had not explained how disclosure of that information “will place it at a competitive disadvantage to its rivals whose information also is being publicly disclosed.”

So, ISPs are forewarned that they will need to come up with something more than the essentially identical competitive disadvantage or “highly sensitive” arguments all were making using essentially identical language, according to the FCC orders. ▪️

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.