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NTIA’s Request for Comments on Broadband Data Spurs Concerns About FCC’s Form 477

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WASHINGTON, August 7, 2018 – Many in the broadband industry commenting on broadband availability data exposed the weaknesses of current Federal Communications Commission data – and not only in the data itself but in the process by which it is collected.

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications Industry Association conducted a request for comments on actions that could be taken to improve the quality and accuracy of broadband availability data, particularly in rural areas.

Although the FCC regularly conduct requests for comments on broadband-related matters, the NTIA weighs in more sparingly. The agency’s May 30 Request for Comments followed a directive of Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

In it, the NTIA said that it sought “input from a broad range of interested stakeholders—including private industry; academia; federal, state, and local government; not-for-profits; and other stakeholders with an interest in broadband availability—on ways to improve the nation’s ability to analyze broadband availability, with the intention of identifying gaps in broadband availability that can be used to improve policymaking and inform public investments.”

Form 477 a chief item of criticism; diverse suggestions on tackling it

The FCC has previously faced criticism for utilizing inaccurate data from “Form 477.” Collected for nearly two decades, the Form 477 was first collected at the census tract level.

Following the introduction of the NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative program of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, NTIA and FCC collaborating on collecting broadband data at the census block level, a much finer level of geography.

Several State Broadband Initiative entities collected data at the sub-census block level, too.

In its request for comment, the NTIA said it wanted to focus particularly on whether and how the data could be improved.

It said: “This data also demonstrates that there continued to be a significant disparity across America, with more than 30 percent of rural Americans and approximately 35 percent of those living on Tribal lands lacking broadband availability, compared to 2 percent of Americans living in urban areas.”

Diverse set of responses to NTIA’s request, with US Telecom urging a rural focus

A diverse list of companies, associations, and government bodies issued responses to NTIA’s request, which was due on July 16.

US Telecom argued that NTIA’s efforts to collect sub-census block data may continue to be ineffective due to lack of understanding over where unserved locations actually are.

According to US Telecom, the root of the problem is not “an inaccurate view of where broadband exists” but rather that “unserved locations are not mapped at all.” Because they are unmapped, the unserved areas remain excluded from policies to deploy broadband access.

“It is therefore our recommendation that NTIA concentrate its limited resources on augmenting the National Broadband Map with a more fulsome set of rural geocoded locations that may exist in the hands of other government entities,” US Telecom said.

Utah’s broadband office says that coverage by census block coverage overcounts broadband

The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development commented that in the FCC’s current model, in “any census block that is partially covered,” all residents – including those unserved – in the census block could be made ineligible for all federal broadband programs. The partially covered census block could be ineligible even if the majority of residents are unserved.

To remedy this situation, the Utah recommended that the “NTIA and the FCC should work with providers and state broadband mapping programs to coordinating data and mapping efforts in order to collect actual provider footprints.”

WISPA opposes FCC efforts to collect granular broadband data

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association expressed concern that new efforts by the FCC to collect more granular data could press heavy demands on small service providers, who may have difficulty collecting such specific data.

“Data-collection efforts that seek broadband deployment at the sub-census block level will create new burdens on small broadband providers that will be ill-equipped to provide information at a more granular level,” WISPA said.

WISPA also noted that obtaining granular data can be costly and time-consuming for small business who may have to purchase new software or upgrade existing technology.

Microsoft recommended “visualization and analytic tools” to collect, analyze, compare, and display information drawn from the data. By providing visualization tools, the data FCC collects will reach a greater audience and “help users better understand broadband availability” to decrease data input errors.

Microsoft hones in on a crucial distinctions: Actual service versus potential service

Microsoft also recommended that the FCC change the language specified in the data collection form to ensure that providers are reporting the areas that actually provide service to, not areas where they “could” provide service.

“We are aware of a rural county in which the FCC’s data reports six fixed broadband providers and 100 percent of the 2000-plus census blocks as having broadband access meeting the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps definition. Interestingly, about two-thirds of the census blocks in that county have a population of zero,” Microsoft said.

Two broadband providers reported they could provide broadband access, despite that they actually were not serving the residents, as “customer service representatives for these providers confirmed that they do not provide residential services in these communities.”

(Screengrab of NTIA Adminstrator David Redl speaking at the Phoenix Center in December 2017.)

 

 

 

Broadband Data

TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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Broadband Breakfast on Wednesday, September 15, 2021 — A ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

BroadbandNow launches a “consumer confidence” survey.

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Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the September 15, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021, 12 Noon ET — BroadbandNow Presents a ‘Consumer Confidence’ Survey for Broadband

As part of its efforts to provide the latest research on the social, economic and political issues contributing to the digital impact and the impact of broadband on everyday life, BroadbandNow is launching a new survey among broadband leaders enthusiasts. Think of this as a “consumer confidence” survey for broadband.

Recently, there have been many changes regarding broadband at the federal, state, local and industry levels. BroadbandNow and Broadband Breakfast aim to launch the survey at a presentation during Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021, a mini-conference at the Broadband Community Summit in Houston, Texas, from September 27-30, 2021.

Join us on September 15, 2021, for this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online preview of the survey with John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow, and Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast.

Panelists for the event:

  • John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow
  • John B. Horrigan, Senior Fellow, Benton Institute on Broadband & Society
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • John Busby is the Managing Director of BroadbandNow.com, where millions of consumers find and compare local internet options and independent research is published about the digital divide. Prior to BroadbandNow, John held senior leadership positions at Amazon and Marchex. John holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University.
  • John B. Horrigan, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow at the Benton Institute on Broadband & Society, with a focus on technology adoption and digital inclusion. Horrigan has served as an Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. During the Obama Administration, Horrigan was part the leadership team at the Federal Communications Commission for the development of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
  • Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. As a journalist, Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband, and – building off his work with Broadband Census – was appointed Executive Director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois under Gov. Pat Quinn. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

BroadbandNow is a data aggregation company helping millions of consumers find and compare local internet options. BroadbandNow’s database of providers, the largest in the U.S., delivers the highest-value guides consisting of comprehensive plans, prices and ratings for thousands of internet service providers. BroadbandNow relentlessly collects and analyzes internet providers’ coverage and availability to provide the most accurate zip code search for consumers.

See also:

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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Broadband Data

New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

March 11, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new “fabric” for mapping broadband service across America will not only help collect more accurate data, but also unify geocoding across the broadband industry, industry experts said during a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar Thursday.

Broadband service providers are not geocoding experts, said Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, and they don’t know where all the people are.

The new fabric dataset is going to be very useful to get a granular look at what is and what is not served and to harmonize geocoding, she said.

AT&T’s Mary Henze agreed. “We’re a broadband provider, we’re not a GIS company,” she said. Unified geocode across the whole field will help a lot to find missing spots in our service area, she said.

The new Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is a major shift from the current Form 477 data that the FCC collects, which has been notoriously inaccurate for years. The effort to improve broadband mapping has been ongoing for years, and in 2019 US Telecom in partnership with CostQuest and other industry partners created the fabric pilot program.

That has been instrumental in lead to the new FCC system, panelists said. It is called a “fabric” dataset because it is made up of other datasets that interlace like fabric, Follansbee explained.

The fabric brings new challenges, especially for mobile providers, said Chris Wieczorek of T-Mobile. With a whole new set of reporting criteria to fill out the fabric, it will lead to confusion for consumers, and lots of work for the new task force, he said.

Henze said that without the fabric, closing the digital divide between those with broadband internet and those without has been impossible.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection expected to help better map rural areas

The new mapping can help in rural areas where the current geolocation for a resident may be a mailbox that is several hundred feet or farther away from the actual house that needs service, Follansbee said.

Rural areas aren’t the only places that will benefit, though. It can also help in dense urban areas where vertical location in a residential building is important to getting a good connection, said Wieczorek.

The fabric will also help from a financial perspective, because of the large amount of funding going around, said Charter Communications’ Christine Sanquist. The improved mapping can help identify where best to spend that funding for federal agencies, providers, and local governments, she said.

There is now more than $10 billion in new federal funding for broadband-related projects, with the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020 and the new $7.6 Emergency Connectivity Fund part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The new FCC task force for implementing the new mapping system was created in February 2021, and is being led by , led by Jean Kiddoo at the FCC. No specific dates have been set yet for getting the system operational.

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