Federal Communications Commission

Office Of Strategic Planning And Analysis Category

What kind of user are you? Or: things my mom taught me about broadband.

August 11th, 2010 by Ellen Satterwhite

My mom is a former librarian who taught me (what little I know) about html. She is online constantly for work and leisure—she shops, does research, checks her email, and streams PBS Frontline documentaries from her computer to her TV. She is technology savvy (and money-conscious) and when I told her that 80% of broadband users in the United States do not know the speed of their connection, she only paused a moment before telling me: “Oh, I have no idea what we get.” After recovering from my shame, I asked her to guess what she thinks she needs, at which point she hung up. So I did a little background for her:

Like most broadband consumers, my mom spends more time online and conducts a lot more of the business of her day-to-day life online than she did in 2002, when she first got broadband. While developing the National Broadband Plan, and in crafting policies for the future, the Commission is interested in projecting how consumer preferences and use of broadband Internet connections will change over time.  Before we figure out what our networks should be able to do in the future, however, we need to have some idea of what we as consumers already use and expect from our connections.

The chart below shows the bandwidth requirements for the range of applications consumers and businesses use today. From basic email to enhanced video teleconferencing.

Actual download speed (Mbps)
Actual download speed demands (Mbps) Example of applications/content providers
(Speed impacts down/up time and render)

- Basic download (or upload) usage - Basic email, E-book download
- Web-browsing, job search, government website access
- Streamed audio - PBS, Rhapsody, NPR, Pandora

- Voice over the Internet (VOIP) - Vonage, Skype, Net2Phone
- Basic interaction - Aleks (Online interactive education)
- Pogo online games
- Instant Messaging
0.3-0.5 - Basic streamed video - Consumer generated education videos
(Speed impacts down/up time and render)
- Large download (or upload) usage - Advanced web browsing
- Social Networking, P2P, etc
- Medical Records download/sharing

- Video-conference + VOIP - Lower definition telemedicine
1-5 - SD-quality streamed video - Streamed classroom lectures
-, Vimeo, NetFlix

- 2-way advanced video interaction - Real-time interactive experiences & gaming
5-10+ - HP-quality streamed video - Broadcast quality HDTV
- HD streamed University lecture
- Enhanced video teleconferencing (HD quality or similar) - Video teleconference and TeleLearning
- HD Telemedicine (diagnostic imaging)


So a user like my mom—who wants to have several browser tabs open, along with her email while watching a streamed TV show—probably requires download speeds between 1 and 4 Mbps. For her, video requires faster speeds than she needed for simple web browsing and e-mail, but most of the common video sites require relatively limited bandwidth;, for example, recommends a downstream bandwidth of 1,000 Kbps for smoothest playback while CNET TV recommends 2.5 Mbps minimum downstream speed for 720p HD videos and PBS offers both 800 Kbps and 300 Kbps streams.

My mom is probably slightly above average (she’ll love me for saying this) in her bandwidth requirements—according to comScore, in 2009, e-mail and web browsing accounted for almost 80% of the median consumer’s data usage.

Armed with this information, and in an attempt to get a ballpark figure for her subscribed speed, I sent my mom a link to to test her actual download and upload speeds. Based on data collected by the FCC and others, we know that in 2009, the mean and median advertised download speeds consumers purchased were between 7 and 8 Mbps. Yet, the Commission also learned, from Akamai and comScore, that U.S. consumers experienced an average of 4 Mbps and a median speed of 3 Mbps—about 50% of the advertised speed. Now I can tell her she should probably subscribe to an advertised service between 2 and 8 Mbps—if she ever calls me back.

FCC-FDA Meet Monday-Tuesday on Wireless Medical Device Innovation

July 21st, 2010 by Mohit Kaushal - Digital Healthcare Director

It’s been several months since the release of the National Broadband Plan and things are still extremely busy. The feedback on the healthcare chapter was very positive and we are now very excited to be working with the FDA and holding a joint meeting next Monday and Tuesday. The FCC has worked with the FDA for many years and we are looking forward to enhancing this co-ordination for future devices and applications.

The area of mobile health is a new and very innovative area within healthcare and holds the promise of both cost reduction and improved outcomes. Our goal is to clarify and delineate the respective areas of expertise and jurisdiction between the agencies. The meeting marks the beginning of a process through which the agencies will provide appropriate clarifications in the future based on the input gathered.

The response to the meeting has been tremendous with over 250 people signed up to attend including Julius Genachowski JD, chairman of the FCC and Margaret Hamburg MD, commissioner of the FDA, and Aneesh Chopra, White House Chief Technology Officer.  Over 20 of the most innovative companies in the space will be showcasing their solutions; everything from wireless medical technologies that can restore function in paralyzed limbs to technologies that can measure heart function anywhere and anytime including in a patient’s home.

There will also be a series of sessions, which will consist of presenters followed by round table discussions. I am also thrilled at the representation we have from numerous stakeholders within these sessions. Don Jones, Adam Darkins MD, Joe Smith MD PhD and Kaveh Safavi MD amongst many more will be providing their invaluable insights to the conversation. If you can't be there in person, watch online at

Broadband Key to Smarter Grids and Smarter Homes

July 21st, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

I was honored to give the keynote at yesterday's Broadband breakfast, and took the opportunity to talk about how broadband plays an important role in smarter electric grids and smarter homes.  The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion where we discussed how IT and advanced communications has the potential to improve the grid for utilities and consumers alike.

Chapter 12 of the National Broadband Plan outlines our specific recommendations, which include two major themes on the Smart Grid:

  • Unleash energy innovation in homes by making energy data readily accessible to consumers.
  • Modernize the electric grid with broadband, making it more reliable and efficient.

Below is a video of the event:

Solving the Innovator's Dilemma: Turning Talk into Practical Results

July 20th, 2010 by Thomas Brown

I thought I'd draw everyone's attention to this op-ed  in last Friday's Washington Post by Blair Levin and Erik Garr, two former co-leaders of the team that developed the National Broadband Plan here at the FCC. The questions they raise are timely: Why are America's schools still using ink-on-paper textbooks, when digital technology offers a much better way? Why is our national discussion about broadband not focused on how to use those networks and completely rethink the delivery of key services?

Lately, we at the FCC have not just been thinking about these questions; we've also been acting to make increased innovation and investment in the broadband ecosystem a reality. In our FY 2011 E-Rate NPRM, adopted in May, we proposed rules that would make the E-rate program a more effective educational tool, spurring innovations that support teachers, parents, and students. These included a proposal to support online learning 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by allowing use of wireless Internet access service away from school premises.

And on July 26-27, the FCC and FDA will hold a joint public meeting to better understand the landscape of emerging wireless medical technologies and trends, and their potential benefits, risks and challenges from various stakeholder perspectives - patients, doctors, investors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and manufacturers. This collaboration will be a critical step in the development and approval of emerging wireless medical devices and applications that hold great promise for improving the quality of health care and reducing costs.

We closed the National Broadband Plan by describing the importance for America of "reducing talk" regarding broadband "into practical results." What do you think are the most important things the FCC can do to promote innovation and investment in health care, education, energy, public safety and other national purposes?

Connecting Kids to the Benefits of Broadband

July 15th, 2010 by John Horrigan - Consumer Research Director, Ombnibus Broadband Initiative.

By John Horrigan and Ellen Satterwhite, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

A recent article by Randall Stross in the New York Times calls attention to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in a paper titled “Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement,” by Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd, which caused quite a few emails and questions in passing here at the FCC.

The study is an analysis of the impact of home computer and broadband access on student achievement, particularly the impact on standardized test scores in math and reading. Following 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina between 2000 and 2005, the authors report a negative correlation between internet access and standardized test scores. Further, this negative effect is more pronounced for low-income students. Simply put: students who gained access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grades tended to see a decline in reading and math test scores, according to the study.

For those of us deep in the weeds on this subject, this finding was not as earth-shattering as some may have assumed. In fact, it is consistent with the findings in the National Broadband Plan: connectivity and hardware matter, but computers and broadband access cannot replace parents, teachers and broader social support as critical inputs into student achievement. Laptops in the home are not a silver bullet--digital literacy training for parents and teachers, appropriate content for online learning systems, and broader community digital literacy efforts are necessary to ensure children benefit from technology.

Like any general purpose technology, the exact economic and social benefits of broadband are difficult to quantify. Yet, a number of research studies (such as those from the Center for Learning Studies in Urban Schools and Information Communication Technology) in the US and abroad demonstrate that instructional gains come about only if schools undertake new instructional approaches tethered to technology and if they adopt new practices to support the technology. The FCC took these findings and made recommendations to support and promote digital literacy for teachers and in the classroom and to support the development of innovative broadband-enabled online learning solutions in Chapter 11 of the National Broadband Plan.

Furthermore, as Vigdor and Ladd point out in their review of the literature, there is evidence that holistic broadband adoption and use programs—those that involve more than simply providing laptops to children—have positive impacts on student classroom performance. Such findings were the support for recommendations in Chapter 9 on Adoption and Utilization. Recommendations like the National Digital Literacy Corps and improved training and support for libraries and other community-based organizations, are ways to build a community’s digital social support structure and help make broadband access beneficial, and not detrimental.

The studies highlighted in the Times’ article are valuable contributions to the discussion of how to make broadband part of educational solutions. The National Broadband Plan recognizes that computers and high-speed connectivity can play an important role in improving outcomes in the classroom – along with the expertise of the educational community, engagement by the technology sector, and involvement of family.

Remarks on Pew Center on the States Panel on “The Role of States in the National Strategy”

July 1st, 2010 by Phoebe Yang - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

Sue Urahn, thank you for having me here. I’ve read the report and it’s a much-needed synthesis of the state of play for broadband in the states.

We look forward to seeing much more great work from the Pew Center on the States in the broadband arena.

And Steve Fletcher, it’s also great to have you here from NASCIO. What you’ve done in Utah, streamlining your enterprise social services system – and really, IT throughout state government - and ultimately improving service delivery, is exactly the kind of proactive effort that the National Broadband Plan recommends.

When our team at the FCC began developing the National Broadband Plan, we said that we wanted to be data-driven and to break through traditional silos that may have hemmed in high-level strategic thinking about broadband in the past.

This approach ended up being strikingly apt for the challenge we were facing, because broadband breaks down more silos than any other technology the world has yet seen.

As the columnist Tom Friedman has noted, broadband is a “flattener” that dramatically reduces barriers to connecting with ideas, with opportunities and with other citizens.

Twenty years ago, two friends from different states that wanted to stay in touch might mail each other pen-pal notes, or place an expensive long-distance call.

Today, they can video-chat in real time and book flights online to visit each other in-person – all from the convenience of their smartphone.

But it is important to remember that the “flattening” nature of broadband cannot only create value, but also to constrain value creation, or even destroy value, in certain circumstances.

Broadband isn’t bound by state lines, but state laws and regulations can determine whether or not broadband can create value for the citizens of a state.

This morning, let me suggest a few parts of the broadband ecosystem where this is particularly true – and suggest ways that states might work with each other, and the FCC, to tip the balance from value constraint to value creation.

One key example is the area of licensing.  In 1847, Nathan Smith Davis founded the American Medical Association, one of the country’s oldest national professional organizations. In order to improve the quality of the practice of medicine, Davis argued that the right to license physicians should be transferred from state and county medical societies and colleges to newly formed state licensing boards.

Since that time, the medical technology – and communications between doctors and doctors and doctors and patients -- have changed.

In an era when doctors lugged their black bags on house calls, it took them several days to consult  with colleagues in other states – not milliseconds.

But in an era when doctors use broadband, the relatively low cost of video connectivity means that physicians can diagnose and treat patients thousands of miles away – leveraging particular expertise that is often sorely needed.

This is particularly important for high physician shortage areas and rural regions of the country, which almost every state has. For example, today 27 states have fewer developmental-behavioral pediatricians than they need to meet demand.

But we still rely on the same state-based licensing system pioneered by Nathan Smith Davis over 160 years ago to determine where those pediatricians can perform their good works - at the same time that European thought leaders have begun thinking about moving to transnational medical licensing.

So the Plan calls upon the nation’s governors and state legislatures to revise their licensing requirements to enable e-care, and to collaborate through groups like the NGA, NCSL and the Federation of State Medical Boards to craft an interstate agreement that makes it easier for doctors to treat patients across state lines.

We applaud the early efforts of State Alliance for E-Health, convened by the NGA’s Center on Best Practices, to streamline the licensing processes across states via online tools for quick updates to credentials and other qualifications.

Or take the example of taxes. Currently, businesses face a patchwork of state and local laws and regulations relating to the taxation of digital goods and services. For example, New Jersey and Vermont explicitly tax ringtones delivered through electronic means, but Nebraska only taxes “digital audio works (music).” This begs the question: is a ringtone a digital audio work? Is it music?

And because more and more products and services can be downloaded in a mobile environment, several taxing authorities may try to lay claim to the same transaction. If I start downloading Iron Man 2 on my iPad on one side of the Key Bridge in Virginia and finish in DC, who gets to collect the sales tax on that transaction?

Without greater clarity and consistency across the country with regard to what counts as a digital good or service -- how that good or service will be taxed -- it’s hard for us to create an environment in which innovation in digital products and business models can fully flourish. And it will be hard for entrepreneurs and small businesses to understand the tax obligations they face.

That’s why the Plan recommends investigating the establishment of a national framework for digital goods and services taxation. This framework would not usurp the authority of states to set their own taxation regimes; but much like the Uniform Commercial Code in the past, it could provide a means for moving from value constraint to value creation in our approach to online commerce.

The Plan also suggests reforms to streamline the process of gaining access to rights-of-way.

One of the most significant sources of cost and delay in building broadband networks is the process of gaining access to rights-of-way and preparing those rights-of-way for broadband deployment, a process called “make-ready.”

For large broadband network builds, the rights-of-way process is highly fragmented and often involves dozens of utilities, cable providers and telecommunications providers in multiple jurisdictions. This process remains expensive, and there is no established process for the timely resolution of disputes.

Some states, like Connecticut and New York, have managed the rights-of-way process well, including the establishment of firm timelines to which rights-of-way owners must adhere and direct regulation of the make-ready process. But in other states, it can take half a year to complete make-ready work.

If we want to move from value constraint to value creation, we need to break down barriers that may be standing in the way of broadband deployment.

So in May, the FCC issued a Pole Attachments Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking o ask for comment on proposed rules to streamline the process.

The Plan also calls for the creation of a joint ROW task force with state and local policymakers to craft guidelines for rates, terms and conditions for access to public rights of way. We intend for that task force to be up and running by the end of September and look forward to working with our state colleagues on crafting an approach to the rights-of-way challenge that will enable more and better networks.

And while we’re on the topic of building networks, it’s worth pointing out that the Plan encourages Congress to clarify that state, local, and tribal governments can build broadband networks themselves.

Much like rural electric cooperatives emerged in the early 20th century to fill the void left when investor-owned electric utilities neglected rural areas in their rush to electrify urban centers
In the absence of investment, local communities should have the right to move forward if they deem it in the best interest of their citizens and their economy.

I’ve only focused on a few elements of the Plan today, but I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have on other parts that are likely to impact states, including the Universal Service Fund, demand aggregation to allow states and localities to take part in federal IT contracts, public safety, consumer protection, or any other topics.

To close, we all know that the states play a crucial role in making broadband accessible to all Americans. The Plan is a launch-pad, not a landing, and we need states to be actively engaged in solving the problem of making broadband available, affordable, and accessible to all Americans. 

As we move forward with proceedings, we’re looking forward to getting your input through the filing process on several specific topics.

We want to learn more about efforts that you have undertaken or contemplated on universal service  and intercarrier compensation, and about state-level efforts to deploy broadband generally, including information on how states are evaluating current Carrier of Last Resort requirements as we shift to IP-based networks.

We want to get your input on infrastructure issues, and the impact of the Plan’s proposed recommendations on traditional wireline carriers.

We’d like to receive more information on state experiences with demand-side initiatives to reach people with disabilities, people on Tribal lands and other underserved groups.

And of course, we encourage you to comment in response to our E-Rate Fiscal 2011 NPRM – e.g., wireless connectivity, our Rural Health Care NPRM, and our Broadband Data NPRM (which will come out in the 4th quarter of this year).

Thanks, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones