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Broadband Mapping & Data

With FCC Broadband Maps Denounced as ‘Terrible,’ Members of Congress Drill Into Details For Improvement

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Photo of hearing by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, September 11, 2019 – Given the widespread support for more accurate maps of broadband availability in Congress, lawmakers and telecom experts said Wednesday that the Federal Communication Commission’s mapping structure and reporting mechanism have room for improvement.

“It is not an exaggeration to say this FCC’s terrible broadband data is its Achilles heel,” said House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., in the opening remarks of Wednesday’s hearing.

He cited information from the advocacy group Free Press to demonstrate that one carrier alone was overstating its deployment by 2.2 million consumers, throwing off the FCC’s entire estimate of unserved Americans.

Republicans largely agreed. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said that Congress must ensure that the FCC and the Universal Service Program are relying on sufficiently accurate and granular information.

“Granular” and “shape-file mapping” were the buzzwords echoed by the hearing’s witnesses, indicating the urgent need to revamp the current mapping system.

Shape files are a good step forward, said Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer of the NCTA – The Rural Broadband Association.

However, she added, granularity is not the same as accuracy. A uniform standard for reporting is necessary to provide more efficient broadband.

Under FCC’s form 447, said James Assey, Executive Vice President of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, broadband coverage must be reported on a census block level. This is flawed methodology that inaccurately depicts underserved areas.

Polygon-shaped files can better detect unserviceable areas within unserved areas, he said.

The divide extends far beyond unserved communities, said Dana Floberg, policy manager at Free Press Action. Only 22 percent of households with average incomes below $20,000 can subscribe to wired broadband services.

That is why Free Press Action supports the Broadband Data Improvement Act and the Mapping Accuracy Promotion Services Act for more granular coverage, she said.

US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter, touted his association’s broadband mapping pilot project, which he said demonstrated that the nation has the skills and ability to quickly and affordably map the gap.

FCC standards are inconsistent with the metrics broadband companies use to analyze service, said Grant Spellmeyer, vice president of federal affairs and public policy at U.S. Cellular. It will take more than $25 billion to achieve universal broadband service.

Serviceable location fabric helps determine where broadband is and where it isn’t, said James Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest Associates, which participated in US Telecom’s pilot project. The quality of location serviceable data will be improved regardless of the method that the FCC decides to employ, he said.

Members of Congress speaking at the hearing were concerned about the logistics of developing improved mapping.

Rep. Robert Latta, R-Ohio, inquired about the time length needed to develop a comprehensive broadband mapping program.

According to Spalter, it could take 11 to 15 months to develop the groundwork for a more granular approach.

It’s also important for the public to participate in the process and understand how these maps work, said Spellmeyer.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., asked how a crowdsourcing process can improve broadband mapping.

Consumers on the ground would be able to give feedback on the coverage they’re getting, Bloomfield said. However, they need to first understand how fast their internet speed is.

The proprietary route of collecting data on underserved areas would be quicker and cost less money, said Stegeman. The alternative to that is an open-source data set, which would require a digital verification process.

Billions of dollars have been spent so far by the government and the public, said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., yet we still have an inadequate broadband supply.

Affordability is critical, said Rep. David Loebsack, D-Iowa. This isn’t a rural or urban issue; this is on the national level.

The America people are getting frustrated, said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. It’s not that tough, he said, to figure out who has broadband and who doesn’t.

This initiative is about mapping America’s future, said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. She said that the country needed to ask itself if this legislation can meet future challenges.

Also weighing in was the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. “For far too long, policymakers have had only opaque information derived from inaccurate maps to guide where subsidies for broadband should be allocated,” said WISPA Vice President of Government Affairs Christina Mason, in a statement.

Broadband Mapping

NTIA National Broadband Availability Map Expands to New States and Territories

Nevada, Louisiana, American Samoa and Puerto Rico will join.

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WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday it will expand its National Broadband Availability Map to include Nevada, Louisiana, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

The NBAM, which now includes 38 states and two U.S. territories, is a geographic information system platform that allows for visualization and analysis of federal, state and commercially available data on broadband availability.

It is designed to better inform administrators’ broadband projects and funding decisions in their states.

Additionally, it includes five federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

In June, the NTIA also released to the public a digital map that includes key indicators of broadband needs across the U.S. This “Indicators of Broadband Need” tool “is the first interactive, public map designed to bring multiple third-party data sources together to help” public understanding of the digital divide and broadband affordability issues, the NTIA said.

The map shows overall great need for broadband access in the rural western U.S. compared to areas of the country such as the northeast and many parts of the Midwest.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Broadband Experts Agree on Multiple Datasets, Disagree on Level of Granularity for Maps

Two broadband experts on a Broadband Breakfast live event discussed data collection and specificity of mapping.

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Drew Clark (top-left), Scott Wallsten (top-right), Jim Stegeman (bottom-left), Bill Price (bottom-right) from live event December 22.

WASHINGTON, December 27, 2021 – Some experts are concerned that there is an overemphasis on the granularity of maps needed to rollout broadband in the country.

“I do not believe that trying to map every structure in the U.S. is the way to go,” said Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, during a Broadband Live Online event on December 22.

“Broadband maps cannot actually be fixed once and for all,” Wallsten said. “The information is always changing and the sorts of things we want to know are also changing.”

Several federal departments and agencies have broadband mapping tools, with the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration working on improving the accuracy and the specificity of their maps.

Wallsten recommended that data commissioners make very clear what questions are being asked and draw data from several datasets.

Wallsten argued that if the only question at hand is an attempt to determine the general trends of broadband adoption, existing FCC maps are likely already sufficient. “You can learn a lot more from data that is already available than most people realize.”

If the question relates to which specific regions and areas need investment, then more data is needed.

“We learn more by combining data in different ways,” he said. “I do not think we are doing enough of that.” Wallsten said that to get a fuller picture and understand trends and needs, stakeholders need to draw from many different sources.

“Do not expect any dataset – or any combination of data sets – to have all the answers,” Wallsten said. “We do not want to create a situation where we tell governments there is one master dataset.”

President of CostQuest Associates Jim Stegeman echo Wallsten’s statements on using multiple different datasets “to really zero in on the issues.”

But he dissented slightly from Wallsten on granularity. Stegeman stated that CostQuest had a proof of concept demonstrating address level service reporting to provide data on a location basis rather than the broader census block basis and the “one served, all served” mentality that the FCC maps have historically been dependent on.

According to CostQuest’s proof of concept, Stegeman said that future maps could have access to the “location of every broadband serviceable point in the country – the latitude and longitude of the building – to where we believe broadband service needs to be delivered.”

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the December 22, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021, 12 Noon ET — When Will the Broadband Maps Get Fixed?

Now that the Infrastructure Investment Act of 2021 has been passed, states can expect to see the $65 billion for broadband infrastructure dripped out over the coming years. But to effectively allocate their resources, states must understand the full picture and be able to discern underserved communities from served communities and identify those communities that are completely unserved. During this event, we will discuss the current state of broadband mapping across the country and what needs to be done to improve it and ensure that this opportunity for historic infrastructure funding is not squandered.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Scott Wallsten, President, Technology Policy Institute
  • James Stegeman, President/CEO, CostQuest Associates
  • Bill Price, Vice President, Government Solutions, LightBox
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute and also a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. He is an economist with expertise in industrial organization and public policy, and his research focuses on competition, regulation, telecommunications, the economics of digitization, and technology policy. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

James Stegeman, as President/CEO of CostQuest Associates, has been a major force behind the development of the latest generation economic cost models used by cable, telco, tower and wireless companies and state and government agencies in support of broadband deployment analysis. He led the design, coding and implementation of the Broadband Analysis Model (“BAM”) that was used by the FCC to develop and support the economic findings in the National Broadband Plan. He led the design, coding and implementation of the Connect America Cost Model (“CAM”, “CACM”, “A-CAM”) that is being used by the FCC to disburse more than $3 billion annually to fund broadband deployment and to set the reserve price in the RDOF and CAF II auctions. And most recently, he is leading the internal development of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, which was awarded to CostQuest by the FCC.  This national fabric will provide the underlying locational dataset for the upcoming FCC Broadband Data Collection effort and resulting national broadband map.

Bill Price, Vice President of Government Solutions, is responsible for LightBox broadband data and mapping solutions for government. Bill has more than 40 years in telecommunications and technology services development and operations. His track record includes delivering the Georgia statewide location level broadband map, the first fiber metropolitan area network in the U.S., and launching BellSouth’s internet service. LightBox combines proven, leading GIS and big data technology to transform how decisions are made in broadband infrastructure planning and investment.

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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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC Commissioning Mobile Wireless and Fixed Broadband Data for Better Mapping

The agency released a statement of objectives earlier this month.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission this month released a statement of objectives to get mobile wireless and fixed broadband performance data for at least the next year.

The November 2 document is intended to aggregate mobile wireless broadband and fixed broadband performance data that will “support the Commission’s analysis of broadband performance and availability in several Commission reports, including its statutorily-required annual Broadband Deployment Report and its biennial Communications Marketplace Report (CMR),” the document said.

The tentative schedule for data collection will be from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022, with an option to extend for another three years beyond that, to December 2025.

The data will include consumer-initiated mobile wireless speed tests from Android and iOS devices and other operating systems, like Windows on desktop, for fixed internet connections. It should include rural and non-rural markets and have data dating back to at least January 2021. The data would also be aggregated based on technology and provider, domestic city-level, and international comparisons.

Respondents are being asked to submit their capabilities of collecting this test data and provide a response to the FCC by November 23.

One of the agency’s primary objectives is to get better mapping data to make better decisions on where to disburse federal funds and to avoid mistakes. The agency is currently going through a bit of a clean-up operation after the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’s reverse auction process awarded winning bidders with money to build in areas that already have adequate services. The defaulting bidders said in letters that they relied on the FCC’s Form 477 data, which supplied inaccurate information as to coverage. (The FCC’s Form 477 data, which relies on service provider information, has been mired by problems for years.)

On November 9, the FCC awarded a contract to broadband consulting firm Costquest Associates to collect data on the availability and quality of fixed broadband internet access across the country as part of the agency’s obligations under the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, which became law last year.

The law requires the agency to collect granular data on fixed and wireless broadband, create publicly available coverage maps, and create a common dataset of all locations where fixed broadband internet can be installed, called the “Fabric.” Costquest will need to provide this fabric dataset, which includes all structures – defined as households and buildings – in the 50 states and its territories and note whether internet access is, or should be, available.

Speaking at the Marconi Society Symposium last month, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency’s crowdsourcing mapping efforts is a valuable way to ensure the maps are as accurate as possible.

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