Policy by the Numbers

Data for sound policymaking from Google and friends


Global Broadband Pricing Study: Updated Dataset and Call to Action

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Vincent Chiu is a Technical Program Manager at Google

Since 2012, Google has supported the study and publication of broadband pricing for researchers, policymakers and the private sector to better understand the landscape and to help consumers make smarter choices about broadband access. We released the first dataset in August 2012, then refreshed the data in May 2013 and March 2014. Today we’re releasing the latest dataset, a result of our fourth iteration of the study. The mobile dataset covers 3,305 plans in 112 countries. The fixed dataset covers 1,983 plans in 105 countries.

December 2014 data links:

  • Price observations for fixed broadband plans can be found here.
  • Mobile broadband prices can be found here.
  • Explanatory notes here and ancillary data is here.

We believe in the power of open data. We want this study to be useful for regulators, academics and policymakers to understand the state of internet access and make data-driven decisions. We plan to continue to sponsor this work in the future so we can identify trends in the space and we’d love to collaborate with other organizations who are interested in getting involved in this study. We would also like to hear how you are using this data. If you are interested, please contact us at broadband-study@google.com.

Why aren't there more Monkeybrains?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Derek Slater is a Senior Policy Manager at Google

Monkeybrains is a wireless Internet access provider in San Francisco. Created in 1998, it’s not a big company—it’s a small business founded by two friendly engineers and run by a handful of people. Until recently, they only offered broadband speeds similar to old copper telephone networks. But they’ve started rolling out an ultrafast 300 Mbps service, buoyed by a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly half a million dollars and the declining cost of antenna equipment.


In the U.S. broadband market, this sort of development is particularly intriguing. Today, nearly 75% of the country has no choice in broadband providers; at best, most consumers only have two options.

Even if the market of available service providers does not grow significantly, the market becoming more contestable—meaning an increased potential for new entrants—could be a significant development. That would make existing Internet service providers much more concerned about customer satisfaction—and that’s good for consumers.

More competition, especially at high speeds, isn’t inevitable though. Even as the technology matures and costs continue to come down, there are a number of barriers to entry that policymakers can help address, including:

  • Spectrum reform: ultrafast wireless services would be much easier to deploy if there was more spectrum available for both exclusive and shared use.
  • Access to video programming: most consumers expect to buy a TV package with their Internet access, but it is difficult for new entrants to license broadcast and cable TV channels at competitive prices.
  • Rights of way, siting for the equipment, and permitting processes: cities could make it easier to put up wireless equipment in public rights of way. This of course needs to be balanced against a range of factors—including a desire to not have a city cluttered with lots of wireless equipment.

New research on security and cloud computing

Friday, February 13, 2015

Ross Schulman is a Policy Manager at Google

Earlier this week, Leviathan Security Group released three white papers that explore cybersecurity in cloud computing versus local storage. Each paper examines a different aspect of security and storage, including availability, cost, and talent acquisition. In general, Leviathan finds that cloud solutions are generally more secure, resilient, and redundant than local equivalents.

A few data highlights:

  • Cloud services provide much better resiliency and redundancy than local services in the face of disasters of all sizes—from small transformer explosions that affect 30,000 users to superstorms the size of Thaiphoon Haiyan. This means quicker data recovery and the ability to keep communications infrastructure like email up and running, which is essential in a post-disaster environment.

  • Even with increasing emphasis on STEM education and growth of computer science programs, organizations—private and public—will not be able to acquire all of the talent necessary to satisfy the demands of local storage infrastructure. For example, there are currently over a million open security positions worldwide, but beginning in 2017, all of the GCHQ-led cybersecurity programs together will graduate just 66 PhD's per year.

  • Of note for numbers lovers, the paper titled “Value of Cloud Security: Vulnerability” lays out a thorough analysis of storage needs for companies of different sizes and compares cost of cloud versus local storage solutions. They find that cloud solutions are cheaper for small organizations in the near term and provide better security because of the expertise, which is concentrated in large organizations.

So what do these findings mean from a public policy point of view? Many countries, including Brazil and Russia, have proposed laws requiring that companies keep the data of that country’s users within national borders. This idea, known as “data localization,” purports to keep citizen users safer and out of the hands of spying governments and hackers.

However, forced data localization prevents companies, governments, and organizations from realizing many of the benefits afforded by cloud services. For example, if a local data center is impacted by a natural disaster, that data is not replicated elsewhere and thus is lost. And given the shortage of security expertise, there’s simply no way that every organization’s security infrastructure for locally stored data can keep up with the state of the art. Finally, preventing small enterprises like startups from using cloud services means that they must take on additional costs in terms of talent and infrastructure, and will likely end up with systems that are less secure than what cloud infrastructure would provide. In the end, data localization reduces opportunities, results in weaker security, and, in some instances, compromises the availability of data.

To learn more about data localization proposals around the world, check out Anupam Chander's paper, "Breaking the Web: Data Localization vs. the Global Internet."

International Broadband Pricing Study: Updated Dataset

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fei Xue is a Staff Analyst at Google

For the last couple years, Google has worked with Communications Chambers to produce a dataset of retail broadband Internet service prices. We released the first dataset in August 2012 and updated it again in May 2013. This dataset enables international comparisons over time and can potentially be used to evaluate the efficacy of particular public policies on consumer prices.

Today, we’re happy to announce the 3rd edition of this dataset. This release expanded the coverage with improved quality: up to ~3000 mobile plans and 1800+ fixed from major ISPs over ~100 countries.

  • Price observations for fixed broadband plans can be found here.
  • Mobile broadband prices can be found here.
  • Explanatory notes here and ancillary data is here.

We received a lot of positive feedback after the first two releases, and we hope this dataset is useful for regulators, policy makers, academics and advocates in making informed, data-driven decisions.

Study Highlights: "High Tech Employment in the European Union"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joep Konings is a professor of economics at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Leuven, Belgium.

In "High Tech Employment in the European Union," a new report by Ian Hathaway (Engine Advocacy) in collaboration with Maarten Goos and me, Joep Konings, (KU Leuven), we analyze* two datasets of worker-level labor market data in the European Union in order to explore the impact of high-tech employment across the EU economy. Our findings show that the high-tech supports economic growth in the EU, creating benefits across the economy. More importantly, the creation of one high-tech job in a local economy creates more than four additional non-high tech jobs in the same region. This includes workers of a variety of occupations, including lawyers, physicians, wait staff, taxi drivers, and school teachers.

Our data also tell us that high-tech workers are a critical component of the European workforce. We found that in 2011, the 22 million high-tech workers employed in the EU-27 represented 10 percent of total employment. At 13.7 percent of total employment, Czech Republic had the highest concentration. Finland, Sweden, Denmark, France, and eight additional countries had high-tech employment shares above 10 percent of total employment.

The January 29 launch event, hosted by Bruegel, provided an important platform for a policy debate on the issue of employment, which recognized the contribution of high-tech employment to the European economy. The policy discussion focused on the fact that while technology outmodes some jobs, it also significantly increases productivity, and creates new and better jobs as well as new ways of working. We saw vibrant discussion about empowering people to acquire the right skills and approach learning as a lifelong endeavor to remain valuable employees in the new tech-driven economy.

*Methodology is outlined in the appendix on page 21.

White Spaces and Rural College Towns: the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Monday, December 2, 2013

Michael Calabrese is Director of the Wireless Future Project at New America Foundation. Blair Levin is Executive Director of Gig.U

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler began his tenure by correctly noting, "Unlicensed spectrum has been and must continue to be the catalyst for innovation." With wireless traffic projected to increase 87 times in five years, we will increasingly depend on unlicensed spectrum to grow the mobile economy. Not only does unlicensed contain greater capacity—the capacity of Wi-Fi networks is 28 times greater than that of 3G and 4G networks—unlicensed enables huge savings. Wi-Fi off-load, projected to soon carry 60-80% of the traffic, will enable over 200 billion euros in annual savings for carriers in Europe alone.

One promising area for unlicensed services is unused television channels, known as "White Spaces." White Spaces development, however, has been hampered by a chicken and egg problem. Without clarity about demand, manufacturers won't devote the resources necessary to lower equipment costs; without costs coming down, demand will not be sufficient.

Several years ago we joined forces—Michael as an advocate for allocating White Spaces for unlicensed use, Blair from the direction of providing the high bandwidth networks rural college towns need and often don’t have—to create AIR.U, a project dedicated to using White Spaces to accelerate the deployment of next generation broadband networks in rural areas. AIR.U is a collaboration with the Declaration Networks Group and various Higher Education Groups, including the United Negro College Fund, the New England Board of Higher Education, the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, and Gig.U, as well as Google, Microsoft and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

We've made progress in addressing the chicken and egg issue, including the first AIR.U network deployment on the West Virginia University (WVU) campus, providing wireless access to the Internet at WVU's Personal Rapid Transit platforms. Senator Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, noted, "The lessons learned from this pilot project will be important as Congress continues to look for ways to expand broadband."

Now it's time for another step forward. Last month, Declaration Networks Group announced a "Quick Start" Network Program tailored for Higher Education communities to evaluate, design, and deploy high capacity broadband networks leveraging White Spaces. The program includes an assessment of expansion approaches and a sustainable path to increase the coverage and capacity of high-speed wireless connectivity to the community.

The program is offered exclusively to the AIR.U institutions. It includes a network with a base configuration supporting multiple Wi-Fi hotspots, and a user group for AIR.U Quick Start participants to collaborate in developing White Space technology, establish best practices, and share approaches for community expansion activities.

We believe this partnership between rural college communities and white spaces networks is the beginning of beautiful friendship, catalyzing more extensive deployments, and accelerating economic and educational development throughout the United States.

Research explores how to lift barriers to Internet access in Africa

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jennifer Haroon is Access Principal at Google.

Without Internet access, how would life be different? We go online to find a new doctor, research the best schools, and find creative inspiration. In Africa today, less than 16% of the population has reliable connectivity. Google recently sponsored the Internet Society (ISOC) to commission a report that examines some of the roadblocks to Internet access in Africa, proposing ways to lift some of these barriers.

In the last five years, large investments have been made to improve access in Sub-Saharan Africa. Undersea cables have improved international connectivity. However, there is still a lag in terrestrial connectivity—whether national, cross-border, or local—that is needed to connect users to those undersea cables.

The report highlights the need for terrestrial connectivity and recommends that policymakers remove barriers to its growth, including bureaucracy, limited cross-border permits, and stringent permit requirements. The report also highlights the need for governments to promote private-sector investment in extending terrestrial connectivity, such as allowing for infrastructure sharing, which can lower costs. Lastly, it highlights the need for agencies with the authority to make these regulatory changes and promote the growth of access.

Although connectivity has improved, more can be done. The suggested policy changes and investments can lead to better infrastructure and increased competition, which can encourage lower prices and higher quality access for users.