ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, October 30, 2019 – The more one delves into the details of broadband mapping, the more complicated it becomes to understand issues of network topology, geographic information systems and consumer “crowdsourcing.”
That was the conclusion of a panel discussing the topic at a Broadband Communities economic development conference here. Representatives of broadband providers (US Telecom) and broadband users (Microsoft) participated, together with three separate government entities.
Lynn Follansbee, vice president of US Telecom, discussed the evolution of the trade association’s interest in broadband mapping — and their “broadband fabric” project. But her perspective, on behalf of providers, was counterposed by Microsoft’s increasing engagement on the subject.
“We are not a broadband carrier, but as big data has emerged, that is an area where we have a fair amount of expertise,” said Paula Boyd, senior director of regulatory affairs for software giant, which is increasingly also a cloud company. She said Microsoft approached broadband data with a desire be a check against provider-supplied data.
Boyd said that Microsoft’s checks — supplemented by machine learning — have shown just how flawed FCC data can be. Comparing Microsoft user data in 20 markets (supplemented by the web site Broadband Now), Microsoft found broadband usage at between zero and eight percent when the FCC found such usage at between 90 and 100 percent.
Rounding out the panel were officials from the Federal Communications Commission, the Commerce Department and a state broadband entity.
The government officials discussed what each of them have been doing to improve the substance behind and analysis of broadband maps, a subject that has been increasingly discussed over the past seven months.
[See Broadband Breakfast articles on broadband data and mapping. See an explanatory article on the subject be this author published in Broadband Communities, including a discussion of the Broadband SPARC, for Broadband “Speeds, Prices, Availability, Reliability and Competition.”]
Perhaps the biggest task at hand falls to the FCC. Steve Rosenberg, chief data and analytics officer for the agency, described the steps that the agency is taking to complete the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, a new effort to completely revamp the way the FCC collects broadband data from providers.
Rosenberg articulated the enormity of the task before the FCC. He said that the agency was in the midst of making crucial decisions about the DODC, including ways that the agency plans to implement “crowdsourcing” data without allowing for new inaccuracies.
“We want people to tell us where the data is incorrect,” said Rosenberg. At the same time, he said the agency “has certainly had experiences where people submitted data in bulk that was not what they said it was.”
Rosenberg also highlighted intrinsic complexities that arise from the FCC’s efforts to incorporate data about actual broadband speeds.
Even as the FCC irons out the new data collection system that will ultimately replace the legacy Form 477, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency is also in the midst of its own broadband mapping revamp. Dubbed the National Broadband Availability Map and released last month, the still-private map was built in collaboration with eight states, said Tim Moyer, program manager at NTIA.
Moyer called the NTIA’s tool “more than a map,” but a way for the federal government to continue interacting with a variety of state broadband entities. The eight states that participated in the $7.5 million NTIA map are California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Utah, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Speaking for state broadband entities was Jean Plymale, broadband project manager at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology. Plymale, who said she welcomed the increased activity on broadband mapping. But she was also critical of inaccuracies in data submitted by providers.
She said local knowledge was crucial to supplement errors in broadband data, and particularly praised the existence of open source tools, like Robert Balance’s Internet as Infrastructure, which attempt to reconcile different broadband data sets.
Follansbee, of US Telecom, also addressed some aspect of the trade group’s evolution toward a more detailed approach toward broadband data.
Although providers have supplied information at a Census block level since the unveiling of the National Broadband Map in 2011, the group’s providers began to recognize that members of Congress, the public and the FCC were demanding more granular data — perhaps even more granular than address-level data.
“Rather than fighting it, we decided to figure out a solution for this,” she said. “Instead of kicking the can down the road,” US Telecom decided to produce a pilot map of all the “broadband serviceable locations” and to which any provider could reference as they provide data to the FCC.
The pilot program mapped out the broadband availability of certain providers in Virginia and Missouri. Documentation about the pilot undertaken with CostQuest has has been submitted to the FCC as part of its broadband mapping proceeding.
Native Americans Need Control Over Mapping Data, Conference Hears
Indigenous connectivity advocates said Native Americans should have control over their mapping data.
October 18, 2021––Advocates for greater broadband access in Native American lands discussed the need for greater control over broadband mapping to address broadband challenges amongst Native American populations.
Traci Morris and H. Rose Trostle from the American Indian Policy Institute said Wednesday at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit that there is now an intense focus on “broadband inequality and digital equity” as it relates to Tribal nations.
Morris and Trostle’s indigenous-led office at Arizona State University analyzes policy recommendations on key issues in Indian country, and they’re working on a paper that would overview Indian country in the U.S., federal broadband maps, and a consideration of indigenous “data sovereignty”––the argument that native lands should have more control over their data mapping to improve broadband mapping in tribal lands.
The mapping undertaking is particularly important to Trostle. “Indigenous peoples have a long tradition of mapping,” they said. “This needs to be recognized when considering how we can improve modern maps of key services, including electricity, water, and broadband.”
Trostle underscored the gap in adequate broadband mapping between tribal lands and the rest of the United States. “Indian country is the canary in the coal mine of broadband mapping,” Trostle said. “Federal data has problems for not just tribal lands, but also non-tribal rural and urban areas.” In Trostle’s view, part of the problem is “a lack of people that understand broadband or tribal lands.” Trostle said their office’s study on the inadequacy of broadband mapping on tribal lands would be available “within the next year.”
The Indigenous Connectivity Summit also featured a discussion about indigenous data sovereignty.
Jeff Doctor, impact strategist at Animikii Indigenous Tech, argued that the native American individual’s connection with their larger collective cultural group makes their data more personal in nature and should be better protected.
In tribal lands, political belonging has an influence on their community and culture and “has a part in how we think of collective rights,” he said. Doctor described how native American lands have been disadvantaged by the U.S. government.
“When you look at how colonialism operates, it’s very extractive” he said. He urged summit attendees to think about how to build rights-based technology. He suggested taking a community-centralized approach to data rights and molding tech data policy around universal human rights.
The fifth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit held virtual sessions from October 12 to October 15, 2021. They met each year to discuss how Tribal nations can have affordable, quality, and sustainable internet access, and talk about how connectivity supports social and economic development.
Service Providers Should Partner with Organizations to Comprehend Broadband Data
For companies to have successful builds, they need to ensure they know how to interpret their data.
HOUSTON, October 4, 2021 — Broadband service providers should work with organizations to understand their own broadband data sets and maps, according to experts.
Speaking at the Broadband Communities Summit last week, Biarri Networks CEO Paul Sulisz explained that even if someone has data, that does not mean that they will have the ability to act on it or follow through on their plans. Ensuring that data sets are interoperable is crucial, he said.
“It is important to understand and agree on how to aggregate data,” Sulisz said. “There are so many people that start on the journey [to build out broadband], go down the wrong path, and then need a rescue mission.”
Broadband experts agree that without the ability to integrate broadband data sets and maps, many broadband expansion efforts will hardly be able to get off the ground.
Sulisz noted that many of these wrong paths are chosen because people are working with data that is incomplete or that they do not understand, and that is why it is so important to work with organizations that are capable of parsing through and comprehending data.
“If [companies] do not do the planning up front with people who have a good track record—it is going to be tough,” Sulisz continued. “Talk to people who have a good track record—go do your homework.”
Gerry Lawlor, the CEO of Open5G, said it is important for those working on broadband projects to understand how to define demand and how to secure long-term investment to meet that demand. He said that often companies that just put their heads down and think that hard work will pull an effort through are the same companies that need to be rescued.
Both men emphasized the need for companies to be prepared for accelerated growth, explaining that once one neighborhood gets faster service, the neighbors will want it, and so on. They said that it is crucial for data logged in potentially disparate systems to communicate effectively to sustain scalable growth.
As it stands now, many companies are being left to their own devices until new Federal Communications Commission mapping data is released sometime next year, though these efforts have inspired less confidence in the wake of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – following the award process, several companies have had to reevaluate their builds since many of the supposedly unserved areas they bid on were already served.
Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts
Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity
September 21, 2021—Public-private partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity in regions that need help, state broadband officials said Tuesday.
Speaking at a “Connecting the Heartland Conference Series,” BroadbandOhio CEO Peter Voderberg highlighted the state’s focus on ensuring student broadband connectivity. He highlighted the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, for which more than 900 school districts have applied.
Funds could be allocated to subsidize the cost of internet for students without broadband, hotspot service plans, providing improved public Wi-Fi infrastructure, or otherwise improving existing connectivity, he said. Collaborative efforts between school districts and ISPs have been able to bring the overall cost of broadband down for consumers.
Voderberg also described a $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to bring internet to areas with connections slower that 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.
This program would subsidize private efforts by compensating ISPs for the difference between the cost of the project and the price it would take to make the effort profitable for them.
Illinois’ early efforts at broadband progress
Matt Schmit, director of the Illinois Broadband Office, pointed to “the three legs of the stool” for broadband expansion: Access, adoption, and utilization.
Illinois’ plans and programs were designed with this three-pronged approach in mind, he said, crediting Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for establishing programs prioritizing broadband two years before the rest of the country is now doing.
Two key aspects of Illinois’ efforts are technology neutrality and a focus on scalability. “[We believe in focusing on] investing in an area and making sure that we have the kind of investment, service, and infrastructure that is going to serve [a] community well into the years ahead.”
In terms of prioritizing which communities and regions get service, Illinois considers any area with services less than 25 x 3 Mbps to be unserved, much like the federal government’s current broadband standard.
However, unlike the federal government, Illinois also has a category for what it considers to be underserved, which is any area below 100 x 20 mpbs. He called the state’s approach a compromise between advocates that have called for a broadband standard of 100 x 100 Mbps or even 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). On the other hand, he said, are voices that argue against “future-proof” technologies, saying that gigabit speeds are gratuitous.
The most challenging aspect of providing service, however, is simply identifying which areas are served, underserved, or lacking coverage completely, he said.
“We don’t necessarily trust the maps that are out there—even our own,” he said, adding that mapping “is the start of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.”
It will only be through conversations with applicants, communities, and providers that enough data is collected to sufficiently serve the state, “We are investing in a community or investing in an area for the long term,” Schmit continued, “Because what we’re going to invest in is fully scalable for the needs, not only today, but for tomorrow.”
The event was hosted by National Urban League, agribusiness Land O’Lakes, Inc., and Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on rural economic development.
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- National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Minority Community Grant Applications
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