BROADBAND BREAKFAST INSIGHT: This OpEd last week highlights the importance of broadband data and mapping, the variety of efforts underway to address inadequacies in our informational base, plus the broadband coordination currently going on in the federal government, and among many of the state governments. Of particular note, later in the articles, is the way it highlights how Tennessee, Indiana and Georgia have followed Wisconsin’s lead by creating “broadband-ready community” certification program.
Broadband infrastructure should be a national priority for policymakers, by Anne Stauffer and Kathryn de Wit of The Pew Charitable Trusts in The Hill:
Policymakers, community leaders and consumers have raised concerns about the accuracy of the map and its underlying data. If internet service providers (ISPs) report just one home or building in a census block as connected, the map shows the entire block as served even if many parts don’t have access. This can have serious consequences, including jeopardizing a community’s eligibility for federal funding. What’s more, the data are self-reported and don’t shed light on actual speed experienced by users.
That’s why building physical structures for broadband must begin with a more precise understanding of where broadband is and is not. The FCC continues to seek input on improving its data collection and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) is partnering with states to identify additional sources of data that will enhance the map’s usability for policymakers.
In addition to increased funding and developing a more accurate broadband map, the federal government is helping states expand connectivity by promoting coordination and expanding grant eligibility. Last year, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill included a provision requiring states that receive federal-aid highway funds to identify a broadband utility coordinator.
This individual will establish and manage broadband infrastructure right-of-way efforts, with specific focus on activities that eliminate the need to dig up the road more than once. In addition, the BUILD Transportation grant program, which funds state, local and tribal transportation investment, will support the deployment of broadband as part of projects eligible for funding in 2019.
FCC Speed Test App To Improve Broadband Mapping, Agency Says
The agency hopes its new speed test will inform an initiative for more accurate broadband maps.
April 12, 2021 – As part of the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to collect comprehensive data on broadband availability across the United States, the agency is encouraging the public to download its Speed Test app, it announced Monday.
The FCC is using data collected from the app as part of the Measuring Broadband America program. The app provides a way for consumers to test the performance of their mobile and in-home broadband networks. In addition to showing network performance test results to the user, the app provides the test results to the FCC while protecting the privacy and confidentiality of program volunteers. It is available on the major app stores.
“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Expanding the base of consumers who use the FCC Speed Test app will enable us to provide improved coverage information to the public and add to the measurement tools we’re developing to show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.”
The network coverage and performance information gathered from the Speed Test data will help to inform the commission’s efforts to collect more accurate and granular broadband deployment data. The app will also be used in the future for consumers to challenge provider-submitted maps when the Broadband Data Collection systems become available.
The FCC has been working to improve its broadband mapping system from Form 477 for several years. Development of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system began in August 2019, and Rosenworcel created a task force in February 2021 to advance that system. On April 7, the agency announced May 7 as the date for establishing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.
Closing Digital Divide Starts With Accurate Maps, Says Gigi Sohn
March 15, 2021 – Gigi Sohn, former president of advocacy group Public Knowledge, said authorities at the Federal Communications Commission and the states need to start with good broadband maps to see where connectivity gaps exist.
“Start at square one, and that is with good data and good maps,” said Sohn, who was speaking at a virtual LGBT Bar Association event on March 10. “Right now, the data the FCC is using to determine where there is broadband and where there is not is grossly inaccurate.”
Good policy cannot be done with bad maps, she said, but she added progress is being made with Congress’ passing of the Broadband DATA Act and the FCC receiving than $98 million to deploy mapping. However, she noted that the FCC is moving “a little slower than she would prefer” to build these maps.
In December, the FCC awarded $9.2 billion in funding from the first round of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Sohn said, however, that the money was doled out with bad maps.
She said part of the problem is that different federal agencies are lacking coordination with maps, which creates duplicate decisions and more bureaucracy.
One solution lies in getting the state agencies involved. “The states cannot be left out of the calculation. There must need to be a blueprint to where the funding is going to go so there is no duplication and everybody can be served,” said Sohn.
“Unfortunately, because it is taking the FCC so long to build these maps, the states are doing by themselves,” she added.
Georgia and Maine, for example, are beginning to go it alone with their own broadband maps.
“I do believe the state maps are going to be more granular than what the federal government is going to come up with,” Sohn said.
New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say
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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