Connect with us

Expert Opinion

The Proper Role for Broadband Mapping When Implementing Fiscal Stimulus

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 – According to a research report released Monday by, the broadband mapping provisions associated with the fiscal stimulus act should be (1) Narrowly scoped; (2) Ideally suited to visually depict unserved areas; (3) Related directly and exclusively to expanding the scope the Broadband Data Improvement Act; (4) Potentially misleading and harmful if allowed to drive and dominate the broader need for good-quality broadband data.


on Research Report

By Ken Austin, Research and Analysis Manager, Broadband

Editor’s Note: This paper was produced by Ken Austin to spur discussion and dialogue about the best way to address the “broadband mapping” provisions of the fiscal stimulus legislation. This document is neither a formal comment nor an official statement of the position of

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2009 – Through public hearings on broadband stimulus, it is starkly apparent that demand for spending broadband stimulus funds far outstrips the $7.2 billion in available funds. These hearings, by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), have assembled officials and interested parties to examine and address the gap.

The same is true of the realm of broadband data, and in the $350 million allocated to that task by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  Consider the competing needs to:

•    Produce meaningful data that support existing law.
•    Align with key metrics that inform the goals and metrics associated with the emerging National Broadband Strategy
•    Allocate resources to projects that are expedited, transparent, and accountable.

Part 1 of this article looks at two laws that set the scope of broadband mapping initiatives addressed in section 8 of the joint NTIA and RUS call for comment.

The conclusion? The broadband mapping provisions associated with the ARRA are:

  1. (1) Narrowly scoped;
  2. (2) Ideally suited to visually depict unserved areas;
  3. (3) Related directly and exclusively to expanding the scope of S.1492, Section 103(c) as amended;
  4. (4) Potentially misleading and harmful if allowed to drive and dominate the broader need for good-quality broadband data.

Part 2 of this article responds to the questions about the broadband mapping initiative posed in Section 8 (a through j) of the joint NTIA-RUS call for comment.

Part 2 gives voice to the policy and budget implications of the argument made in Part 1.

Part 1: Statutory Bounds for Broadband Mapping

The joint call reads:

The Recovery Act directs NTIA to establish a comprehensive nationwide inventory map of existing broadband service capability and availability in the United States that depicts the geographic extent to which broadband service capability is deployed and available from a commercial provider or public provider throughout each State.

The broadband inventory map envisioned by the Recovery Act is both similar to and yet noticeably different than the language in the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008 (BDIA), commonly referred to as S. 1492. Section 103 (c) of S. 1492 reads:

Demographic Information for Unserved Areas—As part of the inquiry required by subsection (b), the Commission shall compile a list of geographical areas that are not served by any provider of advanced telecommunications capability (as defined by section 706(c)(1) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (47 U.S.C. 157 note)) and to the extent that data from the Census Bureau is available, determine, for each such unserved area—

(1) the population;

(2) the population density; and

(3) the average per capita income.

(Emphasis supplied.)

The Recovery Act adds scope to S.1492. It overlays the requirement to “compile a list” with a burden to “visually depict” results.

That apparently subtle shift in language has the potential for derailing an otherwise focused effort to map existing inventory.

How much of the pubic budget should go to “visualizing” otherwise useful information?

Parsing the language of broadband mapping under the Recovery Act is a way to start.  The inventory map is supposed to:

  1. (1) Be comprehensive;
  2. (2) Be national in scope;
  3. (3) Depict geographic extent;
  4. (4) Account for existing service capability;
  5. (5) Account for existing service availability;
  6. (6) Show where “a commercial provider” or “a public provider” exists in each state.

If one takes only the language of terms 1, 2, 3 6, one finds that they result in a “negative” map.  The logic generates a “reverse image” that identifies geographies with zero service.  It produces exactly the result necessary to address the minimum critical specification of “unserved”.

What does it mean to be comprehensive?

Term 6 bounds the scope of broadband mapping.  It provides the minimum critical specification called for in term 1.

When taken literally, term 6 so limits the utility of “a broadband map” that terms 4 and 5 are impossible to achieve.

When a map shows the extent to which “a commercial provider and “a public provider” exist (emphasis supplied), then the deliverable meets the statute.  It does not provide data necessary to discern and make judgments about availability or capability.

The value-add derived from term 3 is suspect. Some stakeholders may have a need for “a map”.  It is not at all clear that “a map” is, in and of itself, valuable to any stakeholder other than a digital cartographer.  A proper inventory would have greater inherent value than a depictable map.  With proper data, people can compare and contrast a wide range of data and use 21st century data visualization techniques of their choosing.

Terms 4 and 5 are bound by The Recovery Act, which specifies existing capability and availability.  That language significantly limits the scope, complexity, and cost of mapping.  It also limits the utility.  No provision is made under ARRA to ensure that the map is sustained or even sustainable.  As written, the language envisions only a “snapshot” of inventory to serve as a baseline.

Meaningful data in support of capability and availability require a larger scope than required of Broadband mapping under the ARRA or by Section 103(c) of S.1492, the Broadband Data Improvement Act.

Assume that we do not accept the low standards set by terms 3 and 6 to be adequate over a range of stakeholders; it could be argued that:

•    Term 4 is the vanguard provision.  Capability today is not an accurate picture of capability tomorrow.  Capability required for telemedicine is not capability for energy management device control and message services.  With no provision for looking forward, the “inventory map” cannot cost-effectively account for capability.  If one were audacious enough to create a sustainable inventory that kept track of the provisions of the act indefinitely, who and what would maintain configuration control and how much would that cost?

•    Term 5 expands the narrowest definition of unserved and opens the inquiry to questions of underserved areas.  It presumably distinguishes the type of service available by technology, geography, price, and service provider necessary to implement a broadband universal service fund required for sustainable ubiquitous service.  Ensuring ubiquity means resolution to the 9-digit ZIP code level.  Spending federal resources on “an inventory map” could divert resources from more meaningful outcomes.  Budget resources should be apportioned accordingly.

The notion of “an inventory map” gives way to a sustainable data-set when the concepts of availability and capability are seriously addressed.

Care should be taken not to rush broadband data funds into the hands of a small number of players whose approach is inextricable linked to the commercial interests of telecommunications providers. In other words, the policy prescriptions of the ARRA for a national broadband map should not be jeopardized by funneling money into cartographic eye-candy.

With visions of “a national map,” long-term policy interests are jeopardized.

•    Is the priority substantive data that informs commercial and civic investment decisions?
•    Is the priority a snapshot of existing inventory?
•    Is the priority expedient and expensive eye-candy?

The choices we make today reverberate for at least a decade.

Part 2: Broadband Data More Fundamental than Broadband Mapping

Section 8 of the Joint NTIA-RUS call asks ten questions; 8a. through 8j.  Those questions are repeated here in italics.

Answers to the questions make an effort to be remain consistent with the argument made in Part 1.  How does the argument shape, or predispose the answers to the joint call for comment?  How would such answers inform policy?

8a.    What uses should such a map be capable of serving?

Given the statutory limits outlined in Part 1, such a map should be limited to displaying, on an electronic map, 9-digit ZIP codes where neither commercial nor public broadband service is available.

The map should be limited to its intended purpose, a one-time baseline inventory of existing broadband capability and availability from a commercial provider or public provider throughout each State.

The outcome is a clear picture of “unserved” areas.  The snapshot provides a solid baseline against which to measure progress toward at least one service option in each place.

8b. What specific information should the broadband map contain, and

See response 8a., immediately above.

Claims over and above those required to meet the statute are recognizable expansions that drain resources available to meet related public policy interests outside the narrow scope of S.1492, Section 103 (c).

should the map provide different types of information to different users (e.g., consumers versus governmental entities)?

No, “the map” should not reflect different information for different users.  It should reflect only a one-time baseline that indicates what regions are unserved in each state.  It is a baseline that informs progress against goals and metrics defined in the National Broadband Strategy.

Efforts to collect otherwise meaningful data should be taken separately from such a scope limited map.

8c.    At what level of geographic or other granularity should the broadband map provide information on broadband service?

Data should be collected at the 9-digit ZIP code level.  If the idea is to find and close all of the gaps, 9-digit ZIP codes provide sufficient resolution.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data remain inadequate.

Street level data are too detailed for the scope limited broadband map envisioned by the statute.  Upkeep is not provisioned and content changes rapidly.  The ensuing costs make street level data non-feasible when weighed against a range of priorities.

A database/inventory built on 9-digit ZIP codes can be correlated with a range of other data sets including census tracts, 477 data, political districts, and county plats.

8d.    What other factors should NTIA take into consideration in fulfilling the requirements of the Broadband Data Improvement Act, Pub. L. No. 110-385 (2008)?

None.  Other data collection priorities should be performed outside the scope of a broadband map.

8e.    Are there State or other mapping programs that provide models for the statewide inventory grants?


If this question 8e. is limited to the scope of an existing inventory map, then most states have some understanding of where public and private broadband is and is not available by county.  Each knows enough to target a few unserved areas immediately.  An extensive map – as opposed to an extensive collection of data – is not required to make near-term progress.

Paradoxically, if stimulus works, “the map” is obsolete before it is published.  With no provision for sustainability of the data, the national map promises ballooning costs without commensurate benefits.

States, having purchased “a mapping solution” touted across the nation, lament that they have no means for questioning service provider claims that broadband deployment is proceeding well. That is evidence enough that such a map is not sufficient to meet data requirements beyond those of Section 103(c) of S. 1492.

The nationally-touted “mapping solution” marginally satisfies the limited scope of the “existing inventory map.”  It also comes with a few difficulties.

  1. (1) The solution provides a host of other capabilities not required to meet the statue, some of which are glitzy, but have no bearing on policy.  This might mean paying far more than necessary.
  2. (2) States purchasing such a solution are bound by non-disclosure agreements.  Such non-disclosure data will not “roll up” to a national map that can be used by citizens and governments to make informed decisions.
  3. (3) If one exhausts the stimulus data budget on creating an existing map of the “negative space,” then a long-term approach to data in support of other sections of S. 1492 would be jeopardized.
  4. (4) Once created, such a “mapping solution” is difficult to sustain.  Government at all levels is hostage to a sole-source information provider.  Such a blind spot makes it difficult to negotiate allocations for sustainment costs essential for a broadband Universal Service Fund.  Keeping broadband data fresh as service providers merge and deploy new technologies is nearly impossible.  It would not be a cost-effective use of data for broadband data.
  5. (5) Expending a substantial portion of the broadband mapping effort on an elaborate broadband map – without a good-quality data underlying such a map – is likely to tilt the playing field toward players that make use of proprietary carrier data.

8f. Specifically what information should states collect as conditions of receiving statewide inventory grants?

Entities seeking broadband stimulus resources related to broadband mapping should commit to verifiable outcomes that satisfy the minimum critical specification. Collecting only the data required to meet the statute, which in turn provides a baseline for key policy measures over time.

If one remains focused on the minimum critical specification for the broadband mapping provisions in the ARRA, states should only be required to collect those data that report which areas currently have one or more commercial and one or more public broadband services by 9-digit ZIP code.

If one finds the scope prescribed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to be too narrow, states should be required to collect those data that inform availability and capability over time.  Accordingly, a state should be required to report data that provide unrestricted visibility into the range data points envisioned by S. 1492.

When states are compelled to collect other data, the initial instance of scope-creep expands.

8g.    What technical specifications should be required of state grantees to ensure that statewide inventory maps can be efficiently rolled up into a searchable national broadband database to be made available on NTIA’s website no later than February 2011?

Files in .xml format will be most useful.  They can be used in creating a map of existing inventory.  They can also be used by thousands of people for other reasons.

8h.    Should other conditions attach to statewide inventory grants?

Yes, data paid for with federal funds should be placed in the public domain.

Data paid for with federal funds but not placed in the public domain shall be accounted for by reporting the amount paid, the type of data purchased, and the time period that the data contract covers.

If non-disclosure agreements preclude even that modest disclosure, the risk and life cycle cost of purchasing data from that source should be accounted for.

8i.    What information, other than statewide inventory information, should populate the comprehensive nationwide map?

None.  The scope of the inventory map should be constrained to its rightful purpose, an inventory of existing service by “a commercial” or “a public” service.

8j.    The Recovery Act and the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA) imposes duties on both NTIA and FCC concerning the collection of broadband data.

Given the statutory requirements of the Recovery Act and the BDIA, how should NTIA and FCC best work together to meet these requirements?

Responding specifically from the position that the statutory scope of broadband mapping is limited and that it expands the scope of a similar result compelled by other legislation, the two responsible organizations can:

  1. (1) Be clear that broadband mapping under the Recovery Act (term 3 in Part 1) creates a one-time baseline that satisfies Section 103(c) of S. 1492.
  2. (2) Agree that capability and availability (terms 4 and 5) are not achievable if the modest standard imposed for identifying unserved geographies (term 6) is taken as the standard for broadband data writ large.
  3. (3) Agree that allowing the scope of the broadband map to creep beyond that which has already occurred (depict visually) diffuses the efforts for meaningful data collection.
  4. (4) Agree that budgets applied to broadband mapping should be proportionate with a wider need for broadband data. Budget resources applied to a “broadband map” should be limited to the scope of the statute.
  5. (5) Agree that the Federal procurement community’s standard works for broadband mapping.


This article makes a case that broadband mapping as defined in the ARRA:

  • Reflects a snapshot of existing conditions.  No provision is made for sustainability of data, or life cycle cost.
  • Makes a limited contribution to the range of data collection needs defined in S. 1492.
  • Increases the scope of S. 1492 by increasing task complex and cost, without adding additional information.
  • Is narrow in its focus on “mapping,” and should remain that way.

In modifying the scope of S.1492 to include “a depictable map,” the ARRA diminishes the relative value of a proper inventory and data set which might be used as raw data for maps that suit a range of needs.

By focusing narrowly on “a map,” policy-makers would fool themselves and those who rely on meaningful data to make supportable investment decisions.

The perception that “broadband mapping,” as defined in the ARRA, will result in a single, scalable, and sustainable “national map” that simultaneously supports infrastructure management and civil debate impairs focus and poses unending sustainment cost, especially if the source data are proprietary.

The second greatest risk is that the focus becomes merely “a map” and is therefore devoid of meaningful substance.

It is crucial to consider that data underlying state-by-state and national broadband maps, are useful for thousands of applications, some not imaginable today, and others having nothing to do with geography. Any public hearing, and presumably any considered response, would recognize that the inherent value lies in the data, not “the map”.

Resources should be apportioned accordingly.  A depictable map should not siphon resources from the goals and metrics that are established for National Broadband Strategy and other data-collection efforts that inform the National Broadband Data Improvement Act.

Expert Opinion

Ron Yokubaitis: GOP Putting Partisanship over Reform with Gigi Sohn’s FCC Nomination

Nominated by President Biden as Federal Communications Commissioner, Sohn understands the real reason net neutrality is necessary.



The author of the Expert Opinion is Ron Yokubaitis, CEO of Golden Frog

The Federal Communications Commission has persistently gotten communications wrong for the past 20 years, even before broadband was a thing.

The commission was supposed to oversee telecommunications networks while leaving the then-nascent internet alone for the most part, but they dropped the ball. Gigi Sohn is the right person to help the FCC get back to its open access roots.

The 1996 Congress envisioned an open, interconnected, interoperable and user-centric internet that offers users “control over the information they receive” and facilitates “diversity of political discourse.” Congress knew that these goals necessarily required an underlying telecommunications infrastructure that was also robustly competitive and itself open, interconnected and interoperable. That is why they enacted new laws basically adopting and extending the FCC’s even then longstanding Computer Inquiries regime that made the internet possible to begin with.

“Broadband” is now provided over fiber. Even broadband wireless requires fiber for backhaul. These are telecommunications facilities, that are – or should be – subject to the FCC’s regulatory jurisdiction. Firms providing fiber-based transmission for a fee are – or should be – common carriers. That, in turn, means they must interconnect, interoperate with and sell network access to other telecommunications carriers and those who provide information services on reasonable terms.

Computer Inquiry, the 1980s AT&T and GTE divestitures and the 1996 legislation all so required. But the FCC went rogue in the late 1990s. It allowed the dominant telephone and cable companies to close their local infrastructure, which allowed them to dominate mass-market internet access. The FCC purposefully killed most local market competition. Most independent internet service providers and competitive local exchange carriers were then forced out of business. Only a few major players still compete at the local level, and it is they who control mass-market “access to the internet” over “Broadband.” dueled early in the Lone Star state with Southwestern Bell

I started Texas.Net in 1994. We were one of the first independent ISPs in Texas. Southwestern Bell controlled the local network, and it soon started limiting our ability to get the lines we had to have so our customers could get to the internet. We turned to competitive local exchange carriers, and even became one ourselves.

SWBT and the other incumbent carriers convinced the FCC to limit competitors’ access to the last-mile connections serving homes and small businesses. The FCC refused to enforce its Time Warner Cable open access mandate. More than 7,000 independent ISPs were put out of business. That is why the telephone and cable companies now have a largely unregulated mass-market telecommunications and internet access duopoly.

“Net neutrality” was and is necessary only because of the FCC’s decision to close access to local infrastructure. America will continue to suffer high cost, rationed broadband telecommunications and internet for residential, small business, rural and high-cost customers for so long as the FCC allows and encourages the telephone and cable companies’ domination over local network access. The FCC must return to its “open access” roots.

Sohn is practical and willing to compromise in seeking bipartisan solutions

I have known Gigi Sohn since she led Public Knowledge. She understands that net neutrality is just a patch and the real solution is true open access to the underlying local telecommunications infrastructure. I certainly don’t agree with 100% of Sohn’s viewpoints, and we’ve told her so. But even when we disagree our voices are heard, understood and considered. She is practical and willing to compromise. She will seek bipartisan solutions to the real problem.

The Republicans’ effort to derail Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the FCC is misguided. All it does is cripple the FCC’s ability to return to its roots and do what is truly necessary to get America up to speed with the rest of the developed world when it comes to advanced infrastructure in general and internet ubiquity in particular. This is too important a moment for partisan gamesmanship. Billions of dollars and the connectivity of millions of Americans are at stake.

Sohn is the right person at the right moment in history. Her 30 years of experience in telecom, broadband and technology policy, her strong commitment to the First Amendment and diversity of viewpoints, and her work to promote a competitive environment where consumers are best served more than qualify her to be an FCC Commissioner.

Ron Yokubaitis is CEO of Golden Frog, a company dedicated to protecting internet privacy online, and a director of sister company Giganews, a global provider of Usenet. Both are headquartered in Austin, Texas. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Expert Opinion

Christopher Mitchell: Treasury Department Rescue Plan Act Rules Improve Broadband Funding

The Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that the Institute for Local Self Reliance identified in May.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Communities across the United States got an unexpected gift from the Biden Administration last week in the form of additional flexibility to use Rescue Plan funds for needed broadband investments, particularly those focused on low-income neighborhoods in urban areas.

When Congress developed and passed the American Rescue Plan Act, it tasked the Treasury Department with writing the rules for some key programs, including the State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). That program is distributing $350 billion to local and state governments, which can use it for a variety of purposes that include broadband infrastructure and digital inclusion efforts.

Treasury released an Interim Final Rule in May, 2021, detailing how local governments would be allowed to invest in broadband. I promptly freaked out, at the restrictions and complications that I (and others) feared would result in local governments backing away from needed broadband investments due to fears of being out of compliance with the rule.

After we worked with numerous local leaders and the National League of Cities to explain the problems we saw in the proposed rule, Treasury released updated guidance in the form of a Q&A document to explain how local governments would be able to build and partner for needed networks.

Given the many challenges the Biden Administration has had to deal with, we did not expect significant new changes to the Rescue Plan rules around the SLFRF. But after many months of deliberations, the Treasury Department has resolved all of the concerns that we identified as areas of concern in May.

As we explain below, local governments have wide latitude to use SLFRF funds for a variety of needed broadband infrastructure investments, especially to resolve affordability challenges.

Summary and TL;DR

The rest of this post will cover some key points in the Final Rule with references to the text in the hopes that it will help communities better understand their options and share key passages with their advisers and attorneys.

The SLFRF Final Rule weighs in at just under 500 pages and comes with an overview. The overview focuses on broadband on pages 39-40 and includes this summary toward the beginning:

Recipients may fund high-speed broadband infrastructure in areas of need that the recipient identifies, such as areas without access to adequate speeds, affordable options, or where connections are inconsistent or unreliable; completed projects must participate in a low-income subsidy program.

The relevant broadband infrastructure sections of the final rule are on pages 260-264 and 294-313. Pages 85-90 focus on digital inclusion, which is relevant and overlapping depending on community plans.

In general, the SLFRF has simplified the rules to give more flexibility to state and local governments (across all of the eligible uses, not just broadband infrastructure). The original rule focused on areas lacking reliable 25/3 Mbps service – with a big focus on the word “reliable.” But there is no mention of 25/3 in the Final Rule.

Local governments do still have to make a determination that they are building the network to solve one of the problems that SLFRF uses as a trigger to allow broadband infrastructure investments, but they do not have to get approval from Treasury or any other entity. More detail below, but the triggers include lack of access to a reliable 100/100 connection or lack of access to affordable broadband service.

Any network built with SLFRF must be designed to deliver 100 Mbps download and upload, with the ability to do only 100/20 Mbps in some situations. That is the same as in the Interim Final Rule but now networks must also support the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) for as long as the program exists.

Qualifying to Use SLFRF for Broadband Infrastructure

Treasury set the tone for the revisions by noting on page 261:

  • Treasury recognizes that there may be a need for improvements to broadband beyond those households and businesses with limited existing service as defined in the interim final rule.

This was a primary concern we heard from cities back in May – that the focus on served/unserved/underserved based on available broadband speeds did not adequately address the problems they faced, even with a strong caveat about reliability.

Cities may have 100 percent high-speed cable coverage but still have neighborhoods where many people are not able to access a broadband Internet connection due to challenges common to impoverished households. Treasury listened to these comments and adjusted the Rule (page 302 – emphasis added):

  • The final rule expands eligible areas for investment by requiring recipients to invest in projects designed to provide service to households and businesses with an identified need for additional broadband infrastructure investment. Recipients have flexibility to identify a need for additional broadband infrastructure investment: examples of need include lack of access to a connection that reliably meets or exceeds symmetrical 100 Mbps download and upload speeds, lack of affordable access to broadband service, or lack of reliable broadband service. Recipients are encouraged to prioritize projects that are designed to provide service to locations not currently served by a wireline connection that reliably delivers at least 100 Mbps of download speed and 20 Mbps of upload speed, as many commenters indicated that those without such service constitute hard-to-reach areas in need of subsidized broadband deployment.

Local governments need to identify areas where at least some households lack high-speed services, or lack affordable access, or lack reliable broadband Internet service. As Treasury has made very clear, not every housing unit served by a network has to meet this condition (pages 302-303 emphasis added):

  • Households and businesses with an identified need for additional broadband  infrastructure investment do not have to be the only ones in the service area served by an eligible broadband infrastructure project. Indeed, serving these households and businesses may require a holistic approach that provides service to a wider area, for example, in order to make ongoing service of certain households or businesses within the service area economical.

We believe that a good source of data that can demonstrate an affordability or other problem that justifies broadband investment is where schools have sent mobile wireless hotspots home with students. This is a data set that nearly every school district should already have.

How to Prove an Area Qualifies

Even though local governments do not have to get approval for their determination that an area qualifies for this SLFRF expenditure, Treasury provides guidance for what evidence municipalities should consider in making the determination (page 303):

  • Consistent with further guidance issued by Treasury, in determining areas for investment, recipients may choose to consider any available data, including but not limited to documentation of existing broadband internet service performance, federal and/or state collected broadband data, user speed test results, interviews with community members and business owners, reports from community organizations, and any other information they deem relevant.

And if that was not sufficiently clear, Treasury goes above and beyond to be very clear that cities should not be bullied by the occasional intimidating ISP or some other opponent of more broadband investment (page 303 still):

  • In addition, recipients may consider the actual experience of current broadband customers when making their determinations; whether there is a provider serving the area that advertises or otherwise claims to offer broadband at a given speed is not dispositive.

This is a tremendously flexible framework. The federal government is giving local governments millions of dollars and trusting them to make wise investments that focus on the most vulnerable residents that are being left out of the opportunities the Internet offers. Some 17 states still limit local Internet choice by interfering with community authority to build a network or partner with an ISP. But everywhere else, communities have no one else to blame if they do not seize this historic opportunity.

Low-Cost Requirements and Encouraged Practices

Treasury adopted stronger requirements to ensure that the public dollars spent on these networks results in networks that are more accessible by all, including those living in poverty (page 308):

  • In response to many commenters that highlighted the importance of affordability in providing meaningful access to necessary broadband infrastructure, the final rule provides additional requirements to address the affordability needs of low-income consumers in accessing broadband networks funded by SLFRF. Recipients must require the service provider for a completed broadband infrastructure investment project that provides service to households to:
    • Participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP); or
    • Otherwise provide access to a broad-based affordability program to low-income consumers in the proposed service area of the broadband infrastructure that provides benefits to households commensurate with those provided under the ACP.

Though it isn’t required, Treasury recognizes the importance of a low-cost, high-quality tier of service, and spells out key parts of it (page 309, emphasis added):

  • Additionally, recipients are encouraged to require that services provided by a broadband infrastructure project include at least one low-cost option offered without data usage caps at speeds that are sufficient for a household with multiple users to simultaneously telework and engage in remote learning. Treasury will require recipients to report speed, pricing, and any data allowance information as part of their mandatory reporting to Treasury.

Other Bits of Interest

The Treasury Department uses OECD data as supporting evidence that the United States has a problem with affordable broadband Internet access on page 87:

  • However, even in areas where broadband infrastructure exists, broadband access may be out of reach for millions of Americans because it is unaffordable, as the United States has some of the highest broadband prices in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Treasury urges these expenditures use fiber optic technology (pages 306-7):

  • Treasury continues to encourage recipients to prioritize investments in fiber-optic infrastructure wherever feasible, as such advanced technology enables the next generation of application solutions for all communities and is capable of delivering superior, reliable performance and is generally most efficiently scalable to meet future needs.

As with every previous iteration of these rules, Treasury encourages prioritizing community networks – cooperatives, nonprofits, and local governments (page 298):

  • Treasury continues to encourage recipients to prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits, and cooperatives.

Recipients of SLFRF funds have to report how they are using the funds. For broadband infrastructure expenditures, that reporting will include speed tiers, pricing, and data caps (page 309). Larger recipients report on a quarterly basis, smaller ones annually. More information on reporting guidelines here.

Additional discussion about the rule is available in the Q&A document, in this Beyond Telecom Law Blog, and CCG’s Pots and Pans.

Final note – I might be the only person who calls this the SLurF-uRF program but I encourage you to consider using that too because doing this work shouldn’t rob us of a juvenile sense of humor. Thanks for reading this far!

Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on on January 13, 2022.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Expert Opinion

Tony Thakur: Bandwidth Consumption, 5G and Rural Coverage Will Drive Fiber in 2022

In the coming year, fiber-optic infrastructure will needed to manage and offer increases in bandwidth capacity.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Tony Thakur, chief technology officer of Great Plains Communications

All indications show that we will continue to consume more and more bandwidth in support of our connected online lifestyles.

Without a doubt, the recent move to the hybrid work/learning model and the need to be constantly connected has increased internet usage. And, as video streaming, e-gaming and video conferencing grow in popularity, the drive for more bandwidth will rise.

To deliver much-needed high speed internet service to support these applications, more Fiber will be required to homes and businesses. Fiber infrastructure is capable of delivering huge bandwidth amounts at needed speeds and will be deployed throughout long haul, metro and last mile networks.

Here’s a look at what’s important to telecom networks, some of the drivers behind the rising trend to fiber, and why fiber is here to stay.

What is behind the rising trend to fiber?

There are several drivers, including:

Bandwidth-consuming applications. When multiple devices are running multiple applications simultaneously, bandwidth is quickly used up and buffering and lag can occur. Thus, networks will need to add more and more bandwidth. The FCC Household Broadband Guide cites rough guidelines for broadband speeds needed for various activities.  We can expect to see increases of speed from gigabit to terabit in the future.

5G deployments. This is another area where there is significant growth. Ultra-fast networks like 5G will require large bandwidth connectivity from the towers to the Switching Center. Fiber has become the standard for backhaul networks. We will continue to see more fiber deployed as 5G grows.

Rural coverage.  Fiber has been widely deployed in the metro areas and for long haul networks. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law November  15, 2021 includes $65 billion in funding for broadband deployment to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities. With more focus on providing high speed internet, there will be more and more fiber deployments in the access or last mile across the country. This trend is likely to continue over the next three to five years, especially in the rural areas where access to the internet is limited to dated technologies and delivery methods. We will see more and more fiber to the home deployments as well.

Fiber technologies to be aware of

Here are some fiber technologies that not only facilitate the additional bandwidth, they simplify processes, enable automation and provide new capabilities:

GPON or Gigabit Ethernet passive optical network uses a single fiber with a point-to-multipoint architecture for the last mile to deliver higher speeds to homes and businesses. GPON was introduced several years ago, with downstream capacity of 2.5 G and upstream of 1.2 G. The newer version, XGS PON, provides additional capability with 10 G symmetrical speeds. Most deployments going forward will employ XGS PON to enable higher bandwidth and speeds.

SD-WAN or software-defined wide-area network technology has been widely adopted in the telecom industry today. Customers can obtain the security, improved performance and diversity from their premise to the cloud and other locations, leveraging multiple circuits. That connectivity can be internet, Ethernet or wireless. The technology also includes orchestration capability that simplifies the operational process. This will continue to be adapted as the workforce shifts to Hybrid remote work environments with more apps and data in the cloud.

SDN or software-defined networking is another technology used for cloud connectivity and other Ethernet-based services.  The network is connected to data centers and cloud providers to enable “on-line” type services. For example, the SDN network allows for demand-type services. Bandwidth can increase or decrease in minutes via a portal and customers pay for what they use versus the traditional monthly recurring circuit cost model.

Growing cloud connectivity

More and more organizations continue moving to and using cloud connectivity to access their applications and data that reside in cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google, Oracle, IBM, SAP, Nutanix, Salesforce, Alibaba and others. Improved performance, faster access, and more flexibility to access tools and data are merely a few of the benefits.

While some rely on the internet to reach the cloud, there are drawbacks such as latency, limited bandwidth and less than top-level security. A direct connection to cloud platforms via fiber is more secure, faster and more reliable, thus improving performance for applications and workloads.

The private cloud or data center requires significant investment to build and operate. A cloud connect via fiber enables easy access to applications anywhere in the cloud, from any location. Data can be stored at multiple locations around the world, providing better flexibility.

Staying power

Technology trends come and go. Remember when people relied on dial-up internet access and carried flip phones, Blackberries or pagers? Yet we sometimes overlook the complexity that goes into deploying new technologies. It is not only about the cool technologies themselves, but so much more. Innovation depends upon talented people who can implement services such as cloud.  Truly, it is the people that make the difference in how we successfully adapt to new technologies.

Tony Thakur is the chief technology officer of Great Plains Communications where he guides the company’s technology vision and focuses on expanding and enhancing its robust fiber network. He has over two decades of experience in C-level and senior executive roles in the telecommunications industry. Tony graduated with a Master of Science in Engineering Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas, Arlington, Texas. This Expert Opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading


Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Get twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts.
* = required field