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Broadband Mapping & Data

Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ) about BroadbandCensus.com

Drew Clark

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What is BroadbandCensus.com?

BroadbandCensus.com is a new Web service that provides you, the consumer, with FREE information about broadband availability, competition, speeds and services in your local area. Type in your ZIP code, and immediately see the number of high-speed Internet companies that serve your ZIP code, and which of them BroadbandCensus.com has been able to identify.

You’ll see how other users rate their carriers, and actual download and upload speeds. You can see consumer comments in your area, and add your own. Or, you can look at all comments, ratings and speed tests for a particular company.

For my ZIP code, the site says, “The government says you have a total of 15 broadband services. The broadband census has found 1 broadband service(s).” What’s the reason for the discrepancy?

BroadbandCensus.com exists to collect and publish better data about broadband. The Federal Communications Commission collects the names of broadband carriers by ZIP code. The agency discloses the number of carriers, but refuses to release their names. BroadbandCensus.com is an attempt to go around the government and the carriers and use “crowdsourcing” to collect data directly from you, the consumer.

Why won’t the FCC release the data?

The FCC claims that disclosing the ZIP codes in which a company provides broadband service would be “likely to cause competitive harm” to the broadband providers. They say this information is proprietary and should not be released.

You can’t be serious! Are you?

Unfortunately, that’s the position your federal government has taken. An effort to obtain this information from the FCC under the Freedom of Information Act was unsuccessful. A federal district court judge sided with the government.

Don’t the carriers need to tell consumers where they operate in order to sell service?

Precisely. BroadbandCensus.com believes that data about the availability and competition of broadband service is already public information. Encourage your broadband provider to make this public information more readily available.

Can’t you collect local broadband data from other sources?

That’s what BroadbandCensus.com is doing. We collect information from multiple sources: state regulatory agencies, company Web sites and-most importantly-from you, the consumer and Internet user, through “crowdsourcing.”

My carrier isn’t listed in the Broadband Census. What should I do?

E-mail the carrier name to us at [email protected]. We’ll add the carrier to the Broadband Census as soon as we can verify that the carrier has a Web site which states that they offer broadband service.

Why do I get an error when I run your speed test?

Our beta-version speed test uses NDT (or Network Diagnostic Tool), which is open-source software created by Internet2. (Internet2 is a super-high-speed Internet backbone linking universities and other educational institutions.) The NDT speed test uses the Java programming language, so you’ll need to make sure that Java is installed in your Web browser. (Most browsers include Java.) Also, the speed test only allows one user to connect at a single time. We are working on expanding the number of server computers so that we can serve more Internet users simultaneously.

Why are you doing BroadbandCensus.com?

BroadbandCensus.com believes that America needs better information about broadband. The country currently ranks 15th in a global ranking of industrialized nations that have broadband. Most experts agree that better information about where high-speed Internet service is available-and where it isn’t-is the first step to improving. Knowing the names, speeds and prices of local broadband offers is crucial to ensuring that our broadband marketplace is transparent and competitive.

What do consumers get from BroadbandCensus.com?

We offer FREE information about broadband availability, competition, speeds and services to the public. By taking the Broadband Census and running our beta speed test, you will help improve America’s understanding of broadband. The site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License, which means that anyone may reproduce or retransmit the content on BroadbandCensus.com, so long as they attribute it to BroadbandCensus.com, and do so for non-commercial purposes.

Are you working with other broadband researchers?

Yes. Broadband Census has signed a contract with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, one of the most prestigious research studying broadband and the Internet. Our data will be incorporated into Pew’s 2008 annual broadband report. We are working with other academic researchers, too. Because we use a Creative Commons License, academic researchers may freely use our content, so long as they attribute it to BroadbandCensus.com.

Shouldn’t the government be doing this? Isn’t there some law to conduct a Broadband Census?

Some countries, such as Ireland, already release information about local broadband availability and competition on a public Web site. Whether the U.S. government should or shouldn’t map out broadband, it isn’t doing so. Under the “Broadband Census of America Act,” H.R. 3919, the Commerce Department would be required to create a publicly-available map of broadband deployment. The map would feature not only broadband availability, but “each commercial provider or public provider of broadband service capability.” H.R. 3919 passed the House of Representatives on November 13, 2007, but is currently pending in the Senate.

How do you differ from others Web sites offering speed tests or broadband mapping?

The focus of BroadbandCensus.com is on providing FREE information about broadband availability, competition, speeds and prices. Other Web sites only map out broadband availability, or only offer an unrecorded single-user speed test. BroadbandCensus.com provides a comprehensive and public record about all facets of end-user broadband data.

Are you non-profit?

Broadband Census LLC is organized as a Limited Liability Company in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was formed to operate the BroadbandCensus.com Web service. While we believe that BroadbandCensus.com is serving an important public purpose, we hope to be self-sustaining by generating revenue.

How is BroadbandCensus.com funded?

BroadbandCensus.com has a contract with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, and has received funding from the Benton Foundation. See our supporters page.

Are there other supporters?

The eCorridors Program at Virginia Tech has provided encouragement and technical advice in taking the Broadband Census to a national audience, Internet2 has provided technical direction about deploying a speed test and the Network Policy Council of EDUCAUSE has provided technical advice and feedback. See our supporters page.

Do you take advertising?

BroadbandCensus.com runs GoogleAds image and text advertisements.

Who runs BroadbandCensus.com?

Drew Clark is the Executive Director of BroadbandCensus.com, and is the principal member of Broadband Census LLC, which was formed to launch this Web service. See the other members of the team. Drew is one of the toughest and most comprehensive technology journalists in Washington. He has more than 20 years of experience as reporter, editor and project manager for a variety of Web sites, magazines and newspapers. A more detailed bio can be found at DrewClark.com/about.

What’s next for the Broadband Census?

Broadband Census is working to take the Web site to the next level by adding detailed coverage maps, by allowing users to add to and edit the profiles about broadband carriers, and by spreading the word about why Internet users should come take the Broadband Census and speed test.

How can I help?

There are three simple things you can do to help:

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Broadband Mapping

FCC Speed Test App To Improve Broadband Mapping, Agency Says

The agency hopes its new speed test will inform an initiative for more accurate broadband maps.

Tim White

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April 12, 2021 – As part of the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to collect comprehensive data on broadband availability across the United States, the agency is encouraging the public to download its Speed Test app, it announced Monday.

The FCC is using data collected from the app as part of the Measuring Broadband America program. The app provides a way for consumers to test the performance of their mobile and in-home broadband networks. In addition to showing network performance test results to the user, the app provides the test results to the FCC while protecting the privacy and confidentiality of program volunteers. It is available on the major app stores.

“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Expanding the base of consumers who use the FCC Speed Test app will enable us to provide improved coverage information to the public and add to the measurement tools we’re developing to show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.”

The network coverage and performance information gathered from the Speed Test data will help to inform the commission’s efforts to collect more accurate and granular broadband deployment data. The app will also be used in the future for consumers to challenge provider-submitted maps when the Broadband Data Collection systems become available.

The FCC has been working to improve its broadband mapping system from Form 477 for several years. Development of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system began in August 2019, and Rosenworcel created a task force in February 2021 to advance that system. On April 7, the agency announced May 7 as the date for establishing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Vermont House Backs $150 Million Broadband Plan Creating New State Office

Jericho Casper

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Photo by Michelle Raponi used with permission

A bill dedicating $150 million of anticipated federal funding to create a new state broadband office to coordinate and accelerate the expansion of high-speed Internet access throughout Vermont passed the State House of Representatives last week with overwhelming bipartisan support.

On March 24th, the Vermont House approved H.B. 360 by a vote of 145-1, backing the creation of the Vermont Community Broadband Authority. If the bill becomes law it would help fund and organize the deployment of broadband infrastructure between Vermont’s nine Communications Union Districts (CUDs) and their potential partners, which include electric distribution utilities, nonprofit organizations, the federal government, and private Internet Service Providers.

The bill was introduced in the state Senate last Friday, and discussed for the first time in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Enabled by a 2015 law, CUDs are local governmental bodies consisting of two or more towns joined together to build communications infrastructure. They were established to create innovative solutions to build broadband networks and provide a combination of Fiber-to-the-Home and fixed wireless Internet connectivity in their respective territories across Vermont, especially in areas where incumbent ISPs fail to provide adequate service.

Vermont’s CUDs, which have called for federal funding assistance since the onset of the pandemic, are ideally positioned to distribute funds in a way that will provide reliable and high-performance Internet access to every nook-and-cranny of the state. Vermont’s active CUDs have already constructed deep pockets of fiber.

Whether or not the CUDs will be able to reach the state’s goal of delivering universal 100/100 Megabits per second (Mbps) Internet service by 2024 now rests in the hands of Vermont’s Senate, Congress, and the Biden Administration as state and federal lawmakers wrestle with how to best expand access to broadband.

CUDs Desire State Block Grants

The U.S. government has not yet provided guidance on how states will be able to distribute the federal dollars headed their way. In this sense, amendments added to H.B. 360 before it passed Vermont’s House, increasing the bill’s appropriation from an initial $30 million to $150 million, reflect the CUDs call for federal funding and state lawmakers’ desire for the federal government to establish rules that give states flexibility to utilize the funding how they see fit.

As of yet, it appears one of the main sources of broadband infrastructure funding allocated under the American Rescue Plan Act, the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, will be awarded in the form of state block grants. States will be awarded between $100 million and $500 million in block grants for capital projects, which include building improved telecommunications networks at a time when remote work, education, and telehealth are more prevalent than ever.

Vermont’s CUDs are hoping little to no constraints are placed on how states can spend incoming federal grant money. In conversation with ILSR, Carole Monroe, CEO of ValleyNet (the operations company of Vermont’s first fully-operating CUD, ECFiber) expressed deep frustrations about the strings that were attached to CARES Act funding. Recipients of CARES Act money were required to spend the funds within months of it being distributed. Monroe lamented the fact that it forced recipients to pursue short-term solutions.

“By the time it reached the state, it was too late to do anything except a few wireless access points here or there,” said Monroe.

“We’ve all been hoping for an infrastructure bill, but I think there will be many strings attached,” she said, cognizant of her past experiences with bureaucratic contingencies on funding. If the funding comes in the form of “block grants to the state it will make it much easier to move forward” because Vermont has a strategic and well-developed plan.

CUDs Need Startup Capital, and to Consolidate

Based on a Magellan Advisors’ report commissioned by Vermont’s Department of Public Services, it is estimated that it will cost $1 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure to the estimated 254,000 locations (82 percent of Vermont) that currently lack 100/100 Mbps symmetrical service (see inline map below, or high-resolution version at the bottom of this story).

CUDs have historically had limited access to the financial capital necessary for expansion into unserved and underserved areas of the state, as previous broadband grant programs have not offered the scale to solve the problem, and traditional funding sources tend to shy away from investing in entities with limited revenue history and little collateral.

Though private investors are beginning to show interest in funding CUDs initiatives, Vermont’s CUDs see the incoming federal funding as a rare opportunity for the infusion of start-up capital initially necessary for CUDs to be financially self-sufficient.

Monroe said that in order for CUDs to be self-supporting they need enough capital for three years of audited financials, three years of positive cash flow, and three years of positive EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization). After getting CUDs to that point, they would then be able to access the municipal bond market, in which interest on money borrowed is not taxable.

While H.B. 360 will help by developing favorable taxing, financing, and regulatory mechanisms to support CUDs, Monroe suggested that it may also make sense for some of Vermont’s smaller CUDs to work together, consolidating Vermont’s nine CUDs into perhaps five or six. Some of the CUDs are very small (serving only about 10 rural towns), which may make it more difficult to gain return on investment.

Potential Partnerships

At the heart of H.B. 360 is a call for increased partnerships to deliver resilient last-mile broadband infrastructure. It will be interesting to follow Vermont’s CUDs to see what entities they end up partnering with, as each partnership is likely to be unique.

Last Friday, Consolidated Communications, a major provider of Internet service in the region, responded to a CUDs request for proposal, demonstrating that the private ISP is willing to partner with the CUDs to deliver high-speed Internet service.

According to Monroe, a large portion of ECFiber’s 6,000 current subscribers switched from Consolidated Communications, so the company quickly learned they needed to improve its service and/or partner with the CUDs to remain viable in the state.

Consolidated Communications could be a desirable partner for Vermont’s CUDs given that they already have access to many pole attachments throughout the state. This will save CUDs from spending already-limited funds on utility pole attachments and make-ready work that often leads to increased costs in the buildout of broadband networks.

Another potential partner for CUDs is Green Mountain Power (GMP), the major electric utility in Vermont, which recently reached an agreement with the Department of Public Service to cover the costs of up to $2,000 for make-ready work in each of the utility’s unserved locations. With 7,500 unserved locations in the utility’s service area, the agreement would reduce the cost of building broadband networks within their footprint by as much as $15 million. Many CUDs are working to calculate how the cost-savings agreement could significantly advance their efforts to expand broadband into unserved regions.

The electric utility’s contributions would also help bring equity to Vermont’s energy sector. Currently all Vermont electric ratepayers are contributing to the rollout of clean energy technologies, yet not all ratepayers are able to access those technologies because they do not have access to adequate broadband.

One thing is clear: Vermont state lawmakers see federal funding, guided by new state legislation, as key to creating a more equitable future and delivering universal broadband access for its citizens.

See a high-resolution map of locations served by 100/100 Mbps in Vermont here.

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Jericho Casper with the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally published on MuniNetworks.org, the piece is part of a collaborative reporting effort between Broadband Breakfast and the Community Broadband Networks program at ILSR.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

State Broadband Authorities Play Crucial Role in Mapping, Planning and Educating for Digital Inclusion

Tim White

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April 2, 2021 – State broadband authorities working close to the ground say that the key to tackling the digital divide are states and local communities.

Accurately mapping where broadband is available has been a challenge for many years, and the latest Federal Communications Commission effort is creating a new “fabric” system that collects more granular data than the agency’s Form 477.

The Biden administration is looking at Congress making large funding investment in broadband. But the state broadband authorities speaking at Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event said that local efforts are essential to inform where funding is best used.

“Local communities may know better than anyone what is working and not working,” said Scott Rudd, director of broadband opportunities in Indiana’s Broadband Office.

Local communities provide central insight into broadband availability and use

Indiana encourages communities to engage their residents and businesses on the street level to find out what is happening in their neighborhood to get a better picture of who does or doesn’t get broadband, he said.

Colorado Broadband Office’s Teresa Ferguson said that the relationship with local communities was critical. The Colorado state geographic information system team works closely with local residents to crowdsource data to more accurately map broadband availability and to obtain consumer input. “We need to have that local voice to advocate for the community’s needs,” she said.

Matt Schmit, director for Illinois’ broadband office, stressed the value that the federal government can provide if broadband mapping is done correctly.

“Our federal partners, if they did it right, could really contribute to the overall effort in a really meaningful way,” he said. “A standardized kind of base or platform from which states and localities can innovate off of,” he said.

The key components to mapping are accuracy, timeliness and granularity, and combining those with “field validation survey work” and speed test data, he said.

Federal funding provides new opportunities to consider federal-state relationship

With so much federal funding being considered for broadband projects, Schmit said now is an opportunity to recalibrate state and federal cooperation.

“The states have proven their capability, they’ve got street cred now,” Ferguson said. States are very effective at implementing funding when they are given that leeway, as compared to one-size-fits-all funding solutions that aren’t always effective, she said.

The Connect America Fund and the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auctions are raising concerns for states because, under FCC rules, awardees do not need to completely build out for six years. That means some state residents may not see broadband for several years, she said.

Maryland’s strong county government structure means that the state relies heavily on county jurisdictions to provide availability data, said Rick Gordon, director of the Maryland governor’s rural broadband office. The state does not yet have a mapping program.

Maryland implemented two grant programs to subsidize building broadband out to unserved areas for service providers, Gordon said. They rely on local jurisdictions in which a local community is paired with a local providers to build the infrastructure.

State-led grassroots relationships and public-private partnerships

In Hawai’i, strategy officer Burt Lum explained that due to lacking of funding, the state began a grassroots effort through a Broadband Hui in 2020. (A “hui” means a group.)

The Broadband Hui is a collection of community stakeholders to find solutions for extending connectivity across the islands. They narrowed down their goals to access, literacy and livelihood, he said. He highlighted the need for better mapping and data gathering tools for Hawai’i.

In addition to better mapping tools, both Schmit and Lum emphasized digital literacy. “The pandemic has really shown a bright light on the fact that many populations in our state don’t have the digital literacy skills to take full advantage of the internet or the computers that they might have,” Schmit said.

Because so much of participation in society is digital, computer and digital literacy for residents are important, Lum said.

Even in solving these other problems, there is still a potential shortage of manpower and materials to actually build the broadband infrastructure. “Material and manpower are probably one of my biggest concerns right now,” Gordon said.

Gordon said that he had been discussing internship and apprenticeship options with electric companies that are branching into broadband. Further, in some rural areas, it’s almost impossible to find the skillset needed to build and operate these networks.

With federal funding coming, it may be difficult to meet the timelines set for that funding, he said. “While they’re trying to solve a problem, they’re creating a different problem,” he said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the March 31, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “State Broadband Authorities

  • Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce created the State Broadband Initiative. The partnership between state government officials, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission included an important component for state officials in broadband mapping. But State Broadband Initiatives did much more: They coordinated infrastructure investments, facilitated training and grants for digital literacy and digital inclusion, and helped raise consumer awareness about broadband. What’s the next chapter for state broadband authorities?

Panelists:

  • Scott Rudd, Director of Broadband Opportunities, Indiana Broadband Office
  • Teresa Ferguson, Director of Federal Broadband Engagement, Colorado Broadband Office (CBO)
  • Matt Schmit, Director, Illinois Office of Broadband
  • Kenrick Gordon, Director, Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, Maryland
  • Burt Lum, Strategy Officer, the Hawaii Broadband Initiative
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Scott Rudd currently serves as Director of Broadband Opportunities at the Indiana Broadband Office. He works closely with Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs on the Next Level Connections broadband grant program. Mr. Rudd has traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with federal legislators, learning more about the federal perspective of legislation regarding broadband and communicating Indiana’s strategy. Previously Mr. Rudd operated as the town manager and economic development director for the town of Nashville, Indiana, where he oversaw seven town commissions, three task forces, directed four departments and served as the town’s public information officer for four years. In that capacity, he also founded the Brown County Broadband Task Force to help steer the county’s broadband strategy and secured more than $20 million in private broadband investments to expand access to more than 7,500 homes and businesses in the area.

Teresa Ferguson is the Director, Federal Broadband Engagement for the Colorado Broadband Office (CBO). Prior to joining the CBO she worked for the Public Utilities Commissions of Missouri, Washington and Colorado where she held national leadership positions, engaging with the FCC, USAC, USDA and NARUC, advocating on behalf of state telecom & broadband policy interests. Ms. Ferguson spent 17 years in the private sector deploying broadband networks for schools & libraries and tribal nations funded through the federal E-Rate program.

Matt Schmit currently serves as Director of the Illinois Office of Broadband, where integration of 21st century infrastructure and service delivery is a primary focus of his work and research. He previously held office as a senator in his home state of Minnesota, and has served on many legislative boards on broadband deployment, transportation policy & investment, and community & economic development. In addition, Mr. Schmit has served on the Cook County Council on Digital Equity (CODE), the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) board, the Blandin Broadband Strategies board, the St John’s University Board of Regents, and the Legislative Water Commission; represented Minnesota on the National Conference of State Legislators Nuclear Energy Work Group and Commerce Committee; and was an active member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and State Ag and Rural Leaders.

Kenrick Gordon currently serves as Director of the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, where he oversees the expansion of broadband capabilities statewide to bring access to households and businesses in Maryland’s rural areas. He has over 30 years in engineering design and construction administration experience, beginning as a civil engineer working with municipalities on public works projects, then moving into commercial and industrial development. Mr. Gordon has also served at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a General Field Representative for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Telecommunications Program.

Burt Lum is the State of Hawaii’s Strategy Officer for the Hawaii Broadband Initiative dedicated to digital equity and ensuring that Hawaii establishes robust, resilient, ubiquitous connectivity to the global broadband network. He was previously the Executive Director of Hawaii Open Data, a non-profit dedicated to advancing the principles of open data/knowledge in Hawaii, including policy work and community collaborations. He has more than 30 years in Hawaii’s technology and communications sector and is a frequent speaker and panelist on the topic of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Moderator Drew Clark, the Editor of Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, is also a telecommunications attorney at Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, The CommLaw Group. Clark served as executive director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, the State Broadband Initiative in the land of Lincoln. PCI engaged in broadband mapping and planning, infrastructure investment, and digital literacy training. For more than a decade, Clark has been one of country’s leading voices advocating for improved broadband mapping efforts and a rational geospatial system for collecting broadband data.

Panelist Resources

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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