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Broadband Mapping

Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Holds Broadband Summit

WASHINGTON March 30, 2011- The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition assembled broadband stimulus award winners and government officials for their inaugural broadband summit on Tuesday to share solutions and success in solving digital literacy and adoption issues.

The SHLBC, formed two years ago, comprises libraries, hospitals, schools, non-profit groups and corporations that seek to further broadband availability for community anchor institutions.

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WASHINGTON March 30, 2011- The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition assembled broadband stimulus award winners and government officials for their inaugural broadband summit on Tuesday to share solutions and success in  solving digital literacy and adoption issues.

The SHLBC, formed two years ago, comprises libraries, hospitals, schools, non-profit groups and corporations that seek to further broadband availability for community anchor institutions.

New Mexico’s State Librarian, Susan Oberlander, provided one of the most descriptive presentations on the state’s digital literacy program.

“By holding the programs in the libraries we found that the programs instantly gained credibility,” Oberlander said. “People already trust the library as a source of good information.”

Oberlander went on to describe how the state contacted telecommunications providers for assistance with developing and implementing the digital literacy and training programs, but the telecommunications providers were not receptive to providing assistance.

As part of the training programs, the attendees participate in broadband usage surveys that track their interests and progress.

“Our preliminary findings are quite interesting,” said Oberlander. “We found that a large number of small businesses that come to our workshops already have broadband, but they want to expand their knowledge of computers.”

The surveys also found that cost of service and lack of a computer are the largest barriers to adoption.

Mary Ann Stiefvater, Cultural Education Specialist at New York State Library, agreed with Oberlander’s findings regarding the use of libraries as digital literacy training centers.

“People already go to the library to use computers; it becomes a natural place for them to learn more,” Stiefyater said.

Stiefyater also talked about the benefits of training the small businesses: “Libraries face the same challenges of developing a web presence as small businesses do. The libraries have learned what works and are now able to train small businesses in the best practices.”

Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), who is co-chair of the Congressional High Tech Caucus, presented the first keynote address of the summit with the announcement that she will  reintroduce legislation to expand Lifeline and Link-Up to include broadband. The Lifeline and Link-Up programs currently provide subsidies to consumers to help pay for telephone service and connection costs.

“Community anchor institutions are critical to our communities,” Matsui said. “By keeping the internet free and open while improving digital literacy programs we can bridge the digital divide.”

She also stated that she supports the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to update  the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband access.

“With the current budgetary realities it’s unlikely we will see another large round of funding, but the USF is a viable alternative,” said Matthew Hussey, Advisor to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), during a panel on the Congressional perspective.

Lawrence Strickling, Administrator of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), presented the second keynote, commending the assembled group for its  tireless work.

“The grant programs are still new, but they are already producing results,” Strickling said. “During the last quarter they have already created one thousand new jobs, installed four thousand new computers and held over 150 thousand hours of training, and our middle mile projects are in talks with over 200 last mile providers to provide connections.”

Of the 233 BTOP projects, only two have been cancelled.

“We worked with these two award winners to try and salvage the projects but they declined our help so unfortunately the projects were canceled,” Strickling said. “Both projects were in the early stages and there was a minimal loss of federal funds.”

According to Strickling, the funds which are not used by the grantees will be given back to the Treasury department to help decrease the deficit.

Strickling then provided the audience with an overview of the National Broadband Map which the NTIA unveiled in February. He called the map a “first try” and promised that with each update the map’s accuracy will improve. With regard to the depth of the data, Strickling said that originally the NTIA wanted to collect address-level data, however, internet service providers told the agency that they did not keep data at that granular of a level. Instead, the NTIA settled on census-block level data, which is more precise than the zip-code level data the FCC collects.

“When we compiled the map we asked internet service providers for their advertised speeds,” Strickling said, “but with anchor institutions we were able to obtain actual speeds and many of them said they did not receive the speeds they wanted or needed. Our anchor institutions are being underserved.”

According to Strickling educational researchers have found that schools need 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for every 100 students, but most schools are not able to provide that level of speed.

When asked by the audience about how looming budget cuts will affect the NTIA’s oversight of the BTOP grantees, Strickling said that both of the continuing resolutions that Congress has passed have included funds for oversight and he does not suspect the funds to be cut in the final budget resolution.

 

Broadband Mapping

Industry Concerned About Challenges of Getting Mapping Data to FCC

The FCC has a September deadline for mapping data it will begin collecting at the end of June.

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2022 – Key players in the broadband industry are under pressure to deliver coverage data to the Federal Communications Commission, as some expressed concern Monday about workforce availability and the costs of getting that data to the agency.

Specifically, the Federal Communications Bar Association event heard that certification requirements for professional engineers are causing concerns, especially among small internet providers. And workforce shortages are pushing hiring costs up, which small companies often cannot afford.

“Everybody is going to have different challenges depending on the size of the company,” Lynn Follansbee, vice president of strategic initiatives and partnerships at US Telecom, said at the FCBA event Monday.

A big company has “challenges just by sheer number of communities served” and smaller companies often don’t have sufficient manpower for efficiently reporting coverage, Follansbee added.

Chris Wieczorek, senior director of spectrum policy at T-Mobile, said the key is to strike a balance between accountability with proper certifications and small staff limitations.

The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act requires the FCC to collect new data from fixed broadband service providers to construct a new map, which is expected by this fall and will help federal programs deliver billions in funding to underserved and unserved areas. In April, the FCC released the preliminary broadband serviceable location fabric to help prepare providers for their data submissions due in September.

Christine Sanquist, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter, stated that although the FCC has provided the preliminary fabric, “the biggest challenge for Charter is really that the BDC requirements are so different from the Form 477 requirements,” which were the existing forms submitted by providers and which yielded data inaccuracies.

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Broadband Mapping

CostQuest to Supply FCC Broadband Map After Watchdog Denies Contract Appeal

The Government Accountability Office rejected LightBox’s bid to protest CostQuest’s award to build the map.

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Screenshot of Costquest President Jim Stegeman from December 2020

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2022 – The Government Accountability Office last Thursday denied an appeal by real estate mapping company LightBox that challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s selection of CostQuest Associates to construct the agency’s enhanced broadband map.

In a press release Wednesday, CostQuest, a mapping data provider, announced the decision by the watchdog, stating that though the appeal delayed its “contract performance” by three months, the company is on track and expected to deliver the first version of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric to the FCC “later this year.”

The GAO’s decision came just two days after the FCC officially set a date for June to begin collecting internet service provider data for the better map. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo previously said that her communications with the agency yielded a possible summertime release of the map.

The FCC awarded the contract to CostQuest in November as part of its obligation under the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technology Availability Act, which became law in 2020.

The creation of a national fabric – or aggregation of data into a single model for the country – is a critical part of bridging the digital divide and integral for the disbursal of billions in federal funds from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, $42.5 billion of which is managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Broadband mapping has been widely discussed in recent years and the FCC has acknowledged that its efforts on this front have been insufficient. The FCC’s current maps only reflect broadband service on the census block level, meaning that if a single address in a census block has access to broadband, the entire census block is considered to have access to broadband. The agency has also begun collecting crowdsourced data.

The services outlined by CostQuest show a higher level of granularity, being able to distinguish between specific addresses, their broadband speeds and quality, and regional marketing trends. In addition to being able to aggregate this address specific data, CostQuest will be able to overlay and compare it with cost, funding, and technology assessments.

States taking initiative on mapping

Though some states were already in the process of their own respective mapping efforts, many will still be largely dependent on federal maps to apply for funding and ultimately deploy broadband infrastructure to underserved and unserved Americans.

“States will have direct access to the location data in the BSLF to support the collective effort of building a better national map,” Jim Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest, said in a press release Wednesday, adding it will be available to service providers as well.

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Broadband Mapping

Crowd-Sourced Broadband Maps Often More Useful Than Government Efforts, Panel Says

Community broadband data can be collected by harnessing the power of the individual.

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WASHINGTON, February 20, 2022 – Broadband maps created using crowd-sourced data can often be more useful in planning internet access than mapping efforts shepherded by state governments and higher ups, a panel of broadband data experts said.

The experts emphasized that incentives for states and grant deployment alone do not lead to successful broadband deployment and that stakeholder and community engagement are essential to calculated expansion plans.

The panel was convened earlier this month as part of the Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast series, aiming to create dialogue on how to improve broadband mapping practices.

As opposed to some statewide efforts at broadband mapping that are mandated by state law, cofounder of consulting firm Breaking Point Solutions Glenn Fishbine spoke of community-based proposals in which individuals who are very tapped into the area where they live collect broadband data from those they know and submit it to the government. His GEO Software is distributed by GEO Partners.

Fishbine has observed areas where this has produced better mapping results than bureaucratic top-down governmental approaches to mapping.

Such methods are often much faster than states waiting for federal assistance in mapping.

Similarly, collecting data on a location basis rather than looking just at census blocks is essential to mapping, particularly for looking at overbuilding such as for disbursement of American Rescue Plan Act funds as University of Georgia Institute of Government Associate Director Eric McRae discussed.

Fishbine highlighted that different mapping approaches like this are unique to what data is trying to be collected – digital inequity studies may require one approach while looking at unserved areas and infrastructure in need of upgrades may require different approaches.

He also highlighted the need for plans to be cost-effective, demonstrating software he has worked on that allows for determination of what infrastructure projects are most likely to win grants based on prescribed grant criteria.

Picking which projects to pursue funding for in this manner is essential due to the fact that grant writers’ labor is a finite resource and they cannot apply to fund every single proposed project.

In the discussion, Kathryn de Wit of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative advocated for state broadband official engagement during infrastructure rollout. That will ensure better deployment opportunities in states beyond what federal grants alone will do.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Better Broadband Mapping, Part 1

This Broadband Breakfast Live Online event will kick off a series about how we can get better broadband mapping and data for making the most of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act funds. We’ll speak with policy-makers, map-makers, state officials and those building out broadband relying on broadband maps.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Kathryn de Wit, Project Director, The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Eric McRae, Associate Director, University of Georgia Institute of Government
  • Glenn Fishbine, Co-founder, Breaking Point Solutions, LLC
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Kathryn de Wit directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative, which works to accelerate efforts to connect millions of Americans to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. Before joining Pew, de Wit was an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, where she focused on broadband deployment, organizational management, and public affairs. De Wit holds bachelor’s degrees in communications and sociology from Penn State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

Eric McRae is responsible for the Institute of Government’s Office of Information Technology Outreach Services (ITOS), which helps state and local governments incorporate into their operations a wide array of geographic information systems (GIS) technology, including parcel mapping, digitizing paper maps, and integrating transportation/addressing systems. He has managed multiple local, state, national, and international GIS projects and initiatives and has served on and chaired numerous GIS and information technology boards and committees, including the National States Geographic Information Council. Eric was integral in the development of the state of Georgia Broadband Map.

Glenn Fishbine has been involved with startup technologies for his entire career resulting in over a dozen U.S. patents. In 2011 he co-founded Breaking Point Solutions, LLC, a technology development company which later developed the GEO software for broadband mapping used in over a dozen states and rapid design studies performed for over 200 clients. The GEO Software is distributed by GEO Partners, LLC.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

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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