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AT&T and Verizon Spearhead Granular Broadband Mapping Program With Address-Level Availability

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WASHINGTON, March 21, 2019 – The nation’s leading telecommunications companies on Thursday announced a new broadband mapping pilot initiative that aims to geolocate each address in the country, and link each location with broadband providers that offer service to that address.

At a launch event joined by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, the broadband association US Telecom announced its Broadband Mapping Initiative Consortium, featuring AT&T, Verizon, and other wireline providers.

The consortium has the support of ITTA and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, two groups that represent smaller broadband providers. The notably absent party is the U.S. cable industry, which has traditionally refused to disclose granular broadband data about broadband service.

The mapping consortium will begin their pilot in Virginia and Missouri, geolocate every address, and create what they call a “broadband serviceable location fabric” to identify structures (e.g., houses, buildings) to which broadband access would be required.

If deployed as advertised, this broadband data-set would be significantly more granular than the currently-outdated National Broadband Map. Launched in 2011, the map has not been updated since 2016. Under a partnership with the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications Information Administration and state broadband initiative entities from every state and territory, the FCC mapped the availability of broadband providers at the census block level.

“It will take a new approach to broadband mapping to bring the power and promise of broadband to every home and business in our country,” said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of US Telecom. He said his association was “leading the charge to definitively map internet service in American and complete the job of connecting the country through broadband – the 21st century’s indispensable resource.”

Chairman Pai praises the initiative and the political imperative of better broadband maps

In his remarks at the event, Pai touted his efforts to reform the Form 477 data collection process.

“Under my leadership, the [FCC] began to explore ways to improve the quality, accuracy, and usefulness of the data we collect on fixed and mobile broadband service,” said Pai. “We have sought public input on how to make the data we get more granular and standardized.”

He added: “The mapping pilot project they are announcing today is intended to help flesh out the record in our Form 477 reform proceeding. By testing new ideas on the ground, it is my hope that this pilot and similar initiatives will give the Commission and other stakeholders useful information to consider as we move ahead.”

Members of Congress — particularly advocates of rural broadband — have been restless and disappointed with the National Broadband Map, as well as the default successor method of broadband data collection: Reliance on the FCC’s Form 477.

At a panel following the event that was moderated by US Telecom Vice President Lynn Follansbee, Senate Commerce Committee Counsel Dan Ball said: “There is a fervor a bipartisanship” about getting better broadband data.

“I don’t think there has been a hearing on broadband deployment in the last several years where members have not stressed the importance of reliable, accurate and sufficient” broadband data, said Ball.

US Telecom noted this congressional dissatisfaction in the fact sheet that accompanied the news release:

“Policymakers at the federal and state level recognize current broadband mapping needs reinvention. They also recognize they need strong industry partners to get this done. Broadband providers are seizing the opportunity to lead the charge on an innovative approach to broadband availability reporting.”

Granular broadband data that is publicly available

Much of the messaging at the US Telecom event centered around the digital divide between urban and rural areas, with the telecom companies positioning themselves as now favoring the sort of public and granular-level mapping.

Census block-level data — the lowest level of data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau — can work well in urban and suburban areas, Spalter said in his remarks at the launch.

That is not the case, however, in rural areas, “where census blocks are far larger than their urban and suburban counterparts and homes and businesses can be set back a significant distance, sometimes miles, from the road that forms the basis for their address,” he said.

With its new support for an address-level map, wireline carriers appear to be betting that public disclosure will provide more benefits than keeping broadband maps at the census block level.  Spalter confirmed that the US Telecom pilot map would disclose whether a particular carrier offered service (or could offer service) to a particular address.

If successful, the association expects that the government would fund a similar address-level broadband map at the national level, and expects a national broadband map would cost $10 million to produce. (US Telecom has hired CostQuest to assemble its database.)

In addition to AT&T and Verizon, the other US Telecom members participating in the program include CenturyLink, Consolidated, Frontier, RiverStreet Networks and Windstream. TDS is also participating.

That, in itself is a remarkable turnaround. In 2007, the telecom and the cable industry jointly attempted to thwart the release of Form 477 broadband data on a ZIP-code level, an effort spearheaded by the Center for Public Integrity, and which led to the founding of BroadbandCensus.com mapping and crowdsourcing project.

The issue of public disclosure of broadband availability was finally settled in February 2011, when the National Broadband Map identified broadband providers, but only at the census block level.

In its new fact sheet, US Telecom now speak about the benefits of mapping and measuring at an extremely detailed level:

  • For network providers, you can’t deploy what you can’t map. The the Broadband Mapping Initiative will:
    • Harnesses the power of new digital resources, mapping databases and crowdsourcing platforms combined with existing provider service address information;
    • Improve understanding of unserved/served areas, resulting in better cost estimates, deployment time, and progress;
    • Enable more effective targeting of funds in current and future government programs;
    • Speed rural America’s access to broadband benefits including eCommerce, eLearning, and telehealth.

Wireless Internet Service Providers are in, but NCTA cable industry group is out

While small wireless internet service providers chose to join, the cable industry did not.

“It is a partnership that US Telecom has been at the forefront of, but we believe it is a good project to get the right data out, so that we know where broadband is, and more importantly, where it isn’t,” said a spokesman for WISPA. Broadband mapping at an address level allows the country to “promote the subsidy program in the right way.”

Asked why cable broadband providers have chosen not to join the consortium, a spokesman for NCTA, the cable industry group, said:

“NCTA has submitted its own proposal to the FCC for reforming the Form 477 process in the near term and we are focused on that proposal.  We think the USTelecom pilot project may ultimately produce information that is valuable in the context of developing future support programs, but it does not seem to be a near-term solution to the concerns people have expressed about broadband maps.  We don’t think the two proposals are mutually exclusive and we’ve encouraged the Commission to move forward with our proposed Form 477 reforms while the pilot is pending.”

(Photo of US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter at the launch of the Improving Broadband Mapping Consortium on March 21, 2019, by Drew Clark.)

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 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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