FCC Releases Broadband Survey Form

Cable operators, other ISPs and phone companies need to get their broadband pricing paperwork in order.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau and Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have released an order outlining the survey it will be conducting with select service providers (via an online reporting form) as soon as OMB signs off on the paperwork collection.

The bureaus have decided not to combine fixed and mobile broadband service in the price survey related to its dispensation of broadband subsidies from the Universal Service Fund as it migrates from traditional phone service to broadband delivery of voice and data.

Communications carriers eligible for funds to get broadband to high-cost (hard-to reach, usually rural) areas are expected to provide that service at comparable rates and terms to those offered in urban areas and the order says that that there will be a stand-alone survey for fixed broadband that will including info on speeds and usage-based pricing.

"The information collected in this survey will be used to establish a rate floor that eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) receiving high-cost loop support (HCLS) or frozen high-cost support must meet to receive their full support amounts and to help ensure that universal service support recipients offering fixed voice and broadband services do so at reasonably comparable rates to those in urban areas," the bureaus said in the joint item.

The bureaus also said that since the FCC won't have come up with a benchmark rate by the July 1, 2013 deadline for ETC fund recipients to file their annual reports, they won't have to certify compliance with that benchmark until the 2014 report.

The bureaus said they would not try to come up with a blended rate for mobile and fixed because "the differences in rate plans and other attributes of fixed and mobile services would make it inordinately difficult to create a unified benchmark."

The commission plans to survey a "statistically valid sample" of all fixed terrestrial providers, which serve census tracts in metropolitan areas.

For ISPs (fixed broadband offerings), the survey will seek info on residential non-discounted rates for all standalone services -- they will not have to break out prices from bundled offerings. The FCC had initially proposed operators place their service in one of four service tiers, but agreed with some of the commenters that using the service tier categories (72 combinations of upload and download speeds) it currently uses for its form 477 broadband report "might not accommodate the variety of plans currently offered" and would have made it harder to fill out the survey.

ISPs will have to report on any capacity allowance-based pricing and what actions are taken when capacity is exceeded, including overage charges, traffic blocking or limiting. ISPs will have the option of also reporting any roll over policies that allow for unused capacity to be used in the following month.

Service providers who receive a survey are expected to complete it within 30 days (the FCC will contact those who do not). Failure to comply with the order could lead to enforcement actions including fines.

The FCC can't send out the survey until the Office of Management and Budget has approved the new paperwork collection requirement.

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.