In my capacity of consulting with the Benton Foundation, I have been doing work with Kate Williams, a professor of informatix at University of Illinois. Williams has been doing some (IMO) critical work around broadband sustainability. In particular, Kate has been studying the old Technologies Opportunity Program to determine which projects had lasting impact and which didn’t — a rather important consideration for the new and improved BTOP program.
But what caught my attention recently is this very interesting map that Williams compiled based on the comments submitted to BTOP. It places the comments filed on a geographic map, with links to the actual comments themselves. The map includes the 58% of comments filed by the April 13, 2009 deadline which contained reliable information on the location of the commentor. The remaining 42% either gave no location or included location in an attachment which Williams considered insufficiently reliable to determine location.
Why do I find this interesting? Because it potentially provides a very interesting cross check on the state of broadband geographically, as well as who follows these proceedings. I have long lamented that the FCC (and other federal agencies) make so little use of the data they actually collect. At best, an agency may note submission by a class of commentors (e.g., broadcasters, MVPDs, ISPs) in the specific proceeding at issue. But no one tries to take the multiple data sets collected as comments in each proceeding, or in multiple proceedings, and tries to determine patterns and what they might suggest. williams grouping by geography is intriguing, and I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we applied a similar analysis to multiple FCC proceedings — including for comments generated by mass “comment engines” that have become common in some high profile proceedings. It would be very interesting to know, for example, if the people feeling passionate enough about media consolidation or network neutrality cluster geographically and, if so, do we see patterns of geographic interest which might tell us about the actual situation on the ground.
Of course the sampling from comments is not a pure scientific data set in that to comment, a commentor must (a) know about the proceeding, and (b) feel strongly enough to file comments. But the fact that the information has a particular set of biases does not render it meaningless, especially if one controls for this.
I hope researchers use Williams’ map, both to analyze the BTOP comments and as a model going forward for analysis of other proceedings.
Stay tuned . . . .