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Broadband Mapping & Data

Broadband Data From Providers Needs to be Checked With Data From Users, Say Panelists at Mapping Event

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, Steve Rosenberg of the FCC, and Paula Boyd of Microsoft by Drew Clark

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.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Kirsten Compitello: The Need for a Digital Equity Focus on Broadband Mapping

Incorporating equitable processes and outcomes from the start is crucial to avoid perpetuating continued inequalities.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Kirsten Compitello, National Broadband Digital Equity Director at Michael Baker International

Broadband for all is in the spotlight right now, and closing the digital divide is recognized as a national priority. The divide goes far beyond access and touches issues of costs, ownership, culture, awareness, skills, and more. As we enter into a period of major statewide planning and deployment efforts, incorporating equitable processes and outcomes from the start is crucial to avoid perpetuating continued inequalities in access, adoption, and literacy.

Digital equity is not just a value statement: it’s a commitment to inclusive and equitable decision making at every stage of broadband deployment, from planning to service delivery.

Ensuring equitable representation at the table

Embedding digital equity analysis into mapping is especially critical at this moment in time as we prepare for historic broadband funding. This funding is an opportunity to rebalance systemic patterns of exclusion and ensure rapidly deployed planning and implementation funds are fairly dispersed.

The Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs that promote digital equity and inclusion, including the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program, a $60 million grant program for states and territories to develop digital equity plans. In creating these Statewide Digital Equity Plans, extensive outreach to and collaboration with underserved, unserved and historically marginalized populations will prove critical. These discussions will be much more informative and effective in guiding successful policies, programs and projects if they are rooted in clear understanding of social, economic and environmental patterns alongside broadband access maps.

Documenting the effects of digital exclusion

Access is not an equal term: reducing it simply to speed of service available neglects the social and economic complexities that determine how and where users are affected by a lack of broadband. In short, mapping where the infrastructure exists only tells part of the story. Data analysis needs to layer in demographic and economic information in order to reveal patterns of exclusion and identify root causes.

To better understand community impacts, our team at Michael Baker developed data visualization tools such as a Digital Equity Atlas which takes the next step toward analyzing how broadband gaps disproportionately impact segments of the population. The methodology looks at Title VI and Environmental Justice data to reveal where poor connectivity correlates to social factors including low income, senior populations, English as a Second Language, households without a vehicle and more. As an example, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission leveraged the Digital Equity Atlas to prioritize new broadband expansion projects that stand to benefit the greatest number of at-risk or marginalized households. These households should not be last in line to see broadband investment finally bringing greater connectivity and opportunities to their doorsteps.

Fulfilling Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program requirements

Federal reporting requirements for upcoming Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act funding call for a proven and documented understanding and analysis of digital equity needs, from planning to projects in the ground.

The IIJA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program provides $42.45 billion to expand broadband access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs across the country. Statewide Five-Year Action Plans, funded through this program, will require government agencies and their partners to take an integrated digital equity approach.

From planning through the ensuing reporting requirements, establishing digital equity strategies and a clear rubric for measuring success in achieving digital equity goals is a must for agencies. These entities must demonstrate how projects funded through BEAD improve digital equity. A strong data-driven baseline – such as the Digital Equity Atlas – will be a necessary starting point for agencies to track and monitor the effect of each new deployment on surrounding households. These data-driven metrics will also be a win for state and local governments to tell the story of their successes with clear data to back it up.

Setting a goal for sustainable inclusivity

As the consumption of internet content continues to rise and as broadband for all projects bring connectivity to the unserved, baseline expectations for broadband service and speed will only continue to grow. If we aren’t careful, new categories of have-nots will emerge: for example, those who pay high fees for minimum speeds versus those with lower fees for premier plans and Gig speeds. The currently unserved will gain access to service, but many will continue to struggle with basic internet skills, navigating through complex terms of service, or even simply finding time to schedule installation without missing a day of work.

To create a truly equitable society, everyone – no matter age, ability, location or status – needs access to affordable and reliable broadband; internet-connected devices; education on digital technology and best use practices; tech support and online resources that help users participate, collaborate and work independently.

By grounding our planning in equitable practices from the very first step, we can help to ensure that everyone is able to benefit from Internet for All.

Kirsten Compitello, AICP, is the National Broadband Digital Equity Director at Michael Baker International. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

62% of Americans Have Access to High-Speed 5G, Says New BroadbandNow Map

The company says its map is based on millions of M-Lab speed tests conducted over a six-month period.

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Photo of John Busby, the managing director of BroadbandNow

September 23, 2022 – Roughly 62 percent of Americans can receive access to high-speed 5G wireless coverage at home, according to a newly released map from the research and aggregator BroadbandNow.

Released on September 12, the map of the nation’s high-speed 5G coverage shows that 206.4 million Americans are able to receive such wireless coverage at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more on download speeds.

The map – based upon actual speed results –shows performance data by provider in all ZIP codes in which high-speed 5G is available. BroadbandNow simplifies the geography to include the entire ZIP code in which a speed result is found. The map’s data includes average speed, top speed, packet loss, and speed-test sample size.

The company says its map is based on millions of M-Lab speed tests conducted over a six-month period.

The map shows dense areas of high-speed 5G coverage in much of the South, the Great Lakes region, the southern Great-Plains states, and the West Coast. High-speed coverage is sparser in the Dakotas, the Rocky Mountain region, the Southwest, and a few outlier states such as Maine and West Virginia.

Advertised speeds vs. experienced speeds

BroadbandNow’s website notes the 5G map’s speed-tested data differs from other BroadbandNow data that is based on providers responses to the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477, which shows the speeds providers claim to offer.

Indeed, the commonly occurring differences between providers’ advertised broadband speeds and users’ experienced broadband speeds frequently are currently a hot topic among experts in the telecommunications space.

“We’re trying to ask a different question, which is what’s available in an area as opposed to what people are actually subscribing to,” said Bryan Darr, vice president of smart communities for Ookla, at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Ookla’s speed-test data shows suggests many areas that should have high-speed coverage – based on providers’ Form 477 reporting – do not, said Darr. In Colorado, for instance, Ookla data showed that speeds of less than 25 Mbps were consistently reported in certain areas in which CenturyLink claimed to offer fiber coverage.

“Clearly there’s questions to be asked here,” said Darr. “Why is no one here seeing an increase in speed?”

BroadbandNow is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Panelists at Broadband Breakfast Event Urge the FCC Mapping Fabric Be Made Public

They objected to being required to help build CostQuest’s database, but are unable to utilize database for their own benefit.

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Screenshot of Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s policy to withhold broadband mapping data from the general public is unjustifiable, panelists said during a panel at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Screenshot of Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

The FCC’s “fabric,” constructed by partner CostQuest Associates, is a dataset that identifies all locations nationwide and in U.S. territories at which “fixed broadband internet access service has been or could be installed.”

It is planned to be the basis for the FCC’s new broadband map and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s allocation of $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program funding to the states.

The FCC will accept challenges to the fabric’s accuracy on a rolling basis, the agency has said, adding that corrections will be made to it. And while a preliminary version of the fabric was released to state, local, and tribal governments, providers, and other entities earlier this year, it remains unavailable to the general public.

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

“It’s hard to think of a legitimate reason for excluding third parties from the fabric at this point,” said Scott Wallsten, president of the Technology Policy Institute. The institute is one such third party that would like access to the fabric, Wallsten said.

And while certain aggregations might be necessary to protect ISPs’ and other entities’ proprietary data, Wallsten argued that access to the fabric’s information could greatly benefit a range of industry entities. Wallsten said the creation of an accurate location-by-location map necessitates the juxtaposition and integration of many different datasets, “require[ing] lots and lots of transparency.”

The FCC imposed limitations on how the fabric can be used, even by those granted access, said Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

“The licenses that are used to gain access to the fabric essentially say that you can use the fabric for reporting into the broadband data collection program or challenging the accuracy of the fabric. Withholding the fabric from the general public precludes non-approved entities from verifying the accuracy of the fabric’s data,” he added.

Licensing agreement between CostQuest and FCC impacts public

While CostQuest owns the initial fabric data, data generated from the challenge process is the FCC’s. Pursuant to the contractual agreement between the two, however, the challenge data is leased to CostQuest and may be used in the company’s commercial products.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims on September 14 released an opinion dismissing a challenge to the FCC’s contract with CostQuest.

Loup objected to communities being “required to help build CostQuest’s database” but being unable to utilize that database for their own benefit. He attributed that result to the FCC’s strict usage restrictions unless the third party were to purchase CostQuest’s commercial mapping products.

Wallsten also questioned why the FCC’s has control over broadband mapping in the first place. He said other federal agencies, including a suggestion that the United States Geological Survey step in, have relevant expertise and are more disinterested in broadband-policy fights than is the FCC.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Broadband Mapping and Data

Much hinges on the success or failure of the Federal Communications Commissions’ updated broadband maps. This fall the agency is entering into a period of intensive updating in which it is assessing an address-level “fabric” of locations and comparing internet service data received from providers. Now comes the hard part: Providing a framework for broadband users and providers to understand and challenge the FCC’s map. The future of the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act depends upon it.

Panelists:

  • Scott Wallsten, President, Technology Policy Institute
  • Bryan Darr, Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla
  • Dustin Loup, Program Manager, Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

Bryan Darr is the Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla. He coordinates Ookla’s outreach to local, state and federal governments and serves on CTIA’s Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Group.

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.

Dustin Loup is an expert on internet governance and policy and program manager for the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition. Much of his work centers on improving digital inclusion and establishing transparent, open-source, and openly verifiable mapping methodologies and standards.

White House photo from August 2021 by Adam Schultz

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