Adviser: Use Broadband Adoption Lists Sensibly

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The Federal Communications Commission needs to look at broadband adoption and deployment in other countries as a way to inform, not replace, reasoned judgment, and should avoid the horse-race mentality of having to catch up or overtake other countries according to various rankings.

That was the advice of Yochai Benkler of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School at an FCC broadband workshop on “International Lessons.”

The FCC asked the center to review data on worldwide broadband deployment and adoption to “help lay the foundation for enlightened, data-driven decision-making” as the commission prepares a national broadband rollout plan, due to Congress next February.

Congressional Democrats often pointed to the U.S.’s fall in such rankings as evidence of failed Bush administration policies. Benkler, though, cautioned against turning those rankings into a competition. That masks the value of such rankings, which is that “if something is accepted by this cluster of countries, it is at least not a bad idea,” and should be on the agenda for serious consideration.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development has ranked the U.S. 15th in the world in broadband penetration, and an International Telecommunications Union study had the U.S. falling to No. 17 from No. 11. But studies of connectivity and “readiness” rank the U.S. at the top of the list, Benkler said.

What the data needs, he said, is careful analysis that trims spurious claims and identifies strengths and weaknesses..

Blair Levin, a broadband consultant to the FCC, made a similar point using the presumed karma of a couple of fortune cookies.

In his inaugural blog posting on the agency’s new Blogband broadband blog (, Levin cited two fortunes he claimed were among those opened by FCC staffers during a recent dinner break.

The fortunes: “Statistics are no substitute for judgment” and “No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.”

Levin’s take: “Data means nothing if we don’t exercise good judgment about what it all means.”

The FCC is holding a series of workshops in August and early September to help draft the broadband plan, which is part of the economic-stimulus package. It faces a Feb. 17 deadline to report to Congress.