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August 3, 2000

Separate Statement of
Commissioner Gloria Tristani
Re: Inquiry Concerning the Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Capability to All Americans in a Reasonable and Timely Fashion, and Possible Steps To Accelerate Such Deployment Pursuant to Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. CC Docket No. 98-146.

I guardedly concur with today's Report. While the Report concludes that certain populations are "particularly vulnerable to not receiving advanced services in a timely fashion," it does not sufficiently state the at risk status of these populations. Moreover, in order to comply with our statutory mandate to "determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion," we must have a better picture of the deployment of advanced services than the existing data afford.

I am troubled about the factors and data that suggest certain populations - those living in rural areas, the U.S. territories, inner cites, and tribal areas, as well as low income consumers and minorities -- are at heightened risk of not having access to advanced services if left to market forces alone. As the Report indicates, the data show a correlation between population density and the presence of broadband subscribers, with areas of low population density much less likely to have subscribers to broadband services. Thus, rural consumers and those on Indian lands outside of population centers are particularly at risk. Other factors, such as the limitations of particular technologies, further increase this risk. Moreover, the correlation between income and advanced services indicates that low-income consumers are likewise at risk of not having access to broadband services, a risk heightened by other factors including the poor quality existing plant in inner cities.

A review of data showing penetration rates for residential high-speed services shows great variance in penetration rates among states. I note that among certain states and U.S. territories, including Wyoming, Puerto Rico, and New Mexico, residential penetration is as low as 0.23%. These data underscore the need to learn more about the relationship between penetration rates and particular population groups, so that we may more closely monitor deployment of advanced services.

While the Commission undertook new data collection efforts in preparation for this second report on the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability, the available data do not provide a full and accurate picture of the state of deployment. The data on which the Report relies suffer from several weaknesses that undermine our ability to draw well-supported conclusions and to identify with specificity at-risk communities. The Commission must rectify this when we undertake data collection efforts in the future.

As the Report itself acknowledges, the zip code data are of limited usefulness, because providers were asked to report whether there is at least one subscriber in a particular zip code, not the number of subscribers in a particular zip code. Thus, the data do not indicate the extent to which the presence of broadband in a particular zip code indicates more widespread availability. The availability of data on actual numbers of subscribers in a particular zip code or data at a more granular geographic area would provide a better picture of the state of deployment. Similarly, because providers were not required to distinguish between residential and small business customers, the data do not provide an accurate snapshot of deployment to residential users. In some zip codes, broadband and advanced services may be available to business users but unavailable, and perhaps unaffordable, to residential users. In addition, the available data do not track service providers with fewer than 250 lines installed to subscribers in any state. Accordingly, there may be a substantial number of small providers' lines that are unreported, another piece of data that is necessary for a more complete view of deployment.

Another major weakness of the data is the lack of information concerning deployment in the United States territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. The limited data suggest that there is virtually no advanced services deployment outside the fifty states, but the Commission must engage in further outreach to ensure full reporting and to understand how reasonable and timely deployment in these areas can be assured.

It bears emphasizing that while the case studies included in the Report provide instructive examples of successful broadband deployment strategies, there is no evidence that these case studies are representative of communities of their size in terms of advanced services deployment. While I am pleased to read about deployment success stories, the availability of broadband in four of the five communities studied does not provide reassurance that deployment of advanced services is reasonable and timely.

I commend the Commission's efforts in this year's Report, which I think represents a substantial improvement both in breadth of data and analysis over last year's effort. I particularly commend our staff's work at interpreting the data. Once again, I am hopeful that the Commission will continue to learn from its experience and ensure that it has a more accurate picture of advanced services deployment in our next report.

In sum, while our report again concludes that the deployment of advanced services is reasonable and timely, it indicates there are populations at risk of being left behind the high-speed bandwagon. As Congress determined in Section 706 and throughout the Act, this Commission's responsibility to encourage deployment of advanced services is to all Americans, whether they live in the suburbs, the farms, the reservations, the inner cities, or outside the continental United States. Congress, wisely foresaw and recognized that advanced services must be universally available so that all Americans and all communities throughout America can benefit and be part of the information economy. In accordance with Congress's direction, we must take the necessary steps to ensure that the populations that we have identified as vulnerable and at risk, no longer remain so.