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Information please

Although regulators are pleased with the rollout of high-speed services, they want more data from cable and telephone providers before deciding whether more government rules are needed to keep the momentum going.

"The lack of deployment in some areas of our country has become somewhat of a bugaboo," FCC Chairman William Kennard said as the agency unveiled its second annual report on the status of broadband availability at its Aug. 3 meeting.

Many communications companies warn that the rollout of advanced services will be hampered if they don't get favorable regulatory treatment and the absence of specific details about deployment makes it hard to judge their requests. "We cannot allow this issue to be used for scare tactics," he said.

Agency staffers said it is likely that broadband providers will be asked to provide substantially more information in the twice-yearly deployment reports that the FCC mandated last year. To improve the reports, the commissioners suggested data detailing demographics.

Also, they want differentiation between residential and small-business subscribers, data from systems serving fewer than 250 broadband customers and from systems serving U.S. territories. The industry will get a chance to comment on proposed changes to the report when the FCC launches its 2001 broadband inquiry early next year.

U.S. businesses and households were subscribing to 2.8 million high-speed and advanced lines at the end of 1999, according to the FCC's analysis, the first that tallied data supplied by broadband companies in government-mandated reports. Cable accounted for 1.4 million, telephone digital subscriber lines 400,000, and wireless and other services 1 million. Residential and small business customers subscribed to 1.8 million of the lines. Among households, the penetration rate was 1.6% at the end of 1999.