U.S.: Telecom Firms Get to Keep Company Data

By Reuters  |  Posted 08-10-2009 Print Email
Telecommunications providers like Verizon and Comcast feared they would have to reveal revenue per customer and the Internet speeds they offer in an effort to map U.S. broadband use.

Telecommunications providers will not have to give the government sensitive revenue and Internet speed data for a program to map broadband use in U.S. homes and bring high-speed Internet service to more people.

The U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday that companies such as Verizon Communications, Comcast and AT&T do not have to share how much money they make from each Internet subscriber. Nor must they say how fast their Internet connections typically run.

Instead, they will provide data by the block, usually about a dozen homes depending on the size of the block. They also will share the speed of Internet service that they advertise.

Companies do not want to share the specific data because they do not want their competitors to see it.

But failing to make it public allows the companies to advertise--and charge for--something that they often cannot deliver, said Joel Kelsey, a telecom policy analyst at Consumers Union, a watchdog group.

"The actual speeds delivered to particular areas simply doesn't match up," Kelsey said. "The government gave a lot and received very, very little in return."

Companies that sell Internet service advertise maximum service speeds as a way to entice customers. More speed means faster access to online entertainment and information.

Internet connections can work at slower speeds than the maximum speed advertised, especially when many subscribers are online at the same time.

The American Cable Association and other groups representing the companies opposed some of the rules before the government clarified the data policy.

"The agency's modifications will improve and expedite (the mapping) effort," ACA President Matthew Polka said.

Larry Landis, an Indiana utility regulatory commissioner and chairman of the federal-state group that will map high-speed Internet availability, praised the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration for being flexible.

The Commerce and Agriculture departments will award loans and grants to state and local governments, and nonprofit and for-profit companies, including telecommunications companies, to participate in the government's broadband program.

The first phase of the plan would release $4 billion of the $7.2 billion program included in President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan. About $350 million will go to the mapping program, but the Commerce Department estimated that $240 million would be needed.

The rule changes come a day after the Federal Communications Commission launched its first workshop to gather ideas and proposals for a national broadband plan it plans to give to Congress in February.

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