Improving Data Collection, Analysis and Research on Broadband

More and better broadband research is needed; how can the Federal government help?

President Barack Obama’s Broadband Opportunity Council found that research on broadband deployment, competition and adoption has not kept pace with the massive digital changes that permeate our economy and society. More research and development is needed: research into broadband economics; studies on deployment barriers; deeper study on how competitive telecommunication markets work in rural and remote regions; and updated studies on broadband adoption and digital literacy. There’s a need for more granular data about broadband connectivity as it impacts agency stakeholders and missions, including data on: broadband speeds and quality points; wireless loads at community anchor institutions; digital literacy and confidence; metrics on effective use; or e-commerce-driven business growth.

But more than any one study; the Council recommends developing a comprehensive research and data collection agenda to prioritize future research plans and continuing to invest in pioneering research programs that support American competitiveness.

Here’s the data and research plan the Council lays out.

Agencies will develop a national research agenda, prototype advanced applications and improve data collection, analysis and research on broadband.

National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)

  • Develop a national broadband research agenda: NSF and NTIA, with participation from other Federal Agencies and bureaus including the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau and Economics and Statistics Administration, will develop a national broadband research agenda. This activity will comprise a review of existing broadband research and resources (including, e.g., a review of Federal research programs, data sets and data collection efforts relating to broadband) and will engage the broader research community to understand challenges, needs, and opportunities and map out and prioritize the most significant opportunities for broadband research. Possible research questions include topics related to broadband innovation, deployment, competition, adoption and impacts (including social/economic impacts). The national broadband research agenda will also consider how to make broadband research (and data) publicly available via open data initiatives. The following Agencies will participate in this effort: the Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, along with the General Services Administration, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and others.

Department of Education

  • Compile and create national data on broadband in schools: The Department of Education will use existing data collection tools and vehicles to assess and compile better national data about student access to technology in school and at home. This initiative will leverage Local and State Education Authority data tools and surveys to create a stronger national and regional understanding of district needs for connectivity, devices and digital content. Results will inform future local, regional and national program and policy actions and support the goals and objectives outlined in ConnectED and implemented through E-Rate reforms.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

  • Pilot new applications that leverage advanced broadband networks: The US Ignite initiative, launched by the Administration in June 2012 with NSF serving as the lead agency, supports next-generation Internet applications that leverage ultra-high-speed connectivity and other advanced networking infrastructure to provide transformational capabilities and services, such as state-of-the-art weather monitoring to improve disaster preparedness and response and real-time individual and patient monitoring to improve health outcomes. NSF will work with other Federal departments and Agencies to develop a new round of application ideas and prototypes to advance agency missions. These efforts will demonstrate to agencies and to the public the technological benefits that can be gained by expanding gigabit broadband networks, encouraging a virtuous cycle of broadband investments and innovations. To develop these applications, NSF will work with partner Federal Agencies to convene workshops with academic researchers, entrepreneurs, developers, community organizers and users to spur collaborations and advance subsequent investments. Agencies supporting this effort include: the Departments of Health and Human Services, Transportation, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development.


This concludes this week’s series on the 36 immediate actions the Federal government will undertake to encourage investment in broadband infrastructure and promote the adoption and meaningful use of broadband technology. The Council also plans to explore additional actions that can unlock even more value. For example, the Council will explore ways to bring technical expertise into key agencies, which in turn will increase the impact of the recommended actions. And the agencies have committed to continue to engage with stakeholders (State, Local and Tribal government leaders; major telecommunication carriers and associations; IT innovators and technology companies; nonprofits and community anchor institutions; community advocates and individuals) to shape implementation plans, to gather feedback on the impacts of these changes and to develop future actions for consideration.

As always, the Benton Foundation will help you track implementation of the Council’s recommendations through our free Headlines service which summarizes key telecommunications and media policy developments every day.

  1. Modernize Federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments.
  2. Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use.
  3. Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to Federal assets.
  4. Improve data collection, analysis and research on broadband.

By Kevin Taglang.