ARLINGTON, Virginia, October 17, 2019 – Federal Communication Commissioner Geoffrey Starks summarized his keynote message to the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition’s #AnchorNets2019 with a simple scoreboard: FCC’s broadband maps-0, Libraries as anchor institutions serving communities-1.
After first dumping on the agency’s process of collecting, compiling and publishing broadband data, Starks provided paeans to the role that libraries have and continue to play in the enlightenment and edification of America.
Specifically, he underscored four benefits that libraries play in universal access, as a place for learning, in helping people bounce rise up from setbacks, and serving as “second responders” for communities struck by tragedy.
First is the role that libraries play in universal access. “Libraries are still, as Andrew Carnegie said, ‘Palaces for the People.’ The Municipal Library in Columbus Ohio has three words carved in granite above its front door – the words are: ‘Open To All.’
Today, this goes far beyond access the Dewey decimal system. Libraries are providing broadband access through their Wi-Fi signals, as well as by lending connectivity when patrons check out hot spots that they can take home.
Second, libraries play a crucial role as a place for children, teens and adults to learn, read and – for newly-arrived refugees – learn how to establish a place for themselves and their families in America. He highlighted the “Tech Goes Program” in the Boston Public Library , a 15-week course that teaches computer and internet skills, helps people purchase low-cost internet subscription services, and helps them acquire the hardware they need to access the internet at home.
Third is the role that libraries play in getting people who have been thrown out of work back on their feet by obtaining jobs. “This is an important trend and it’s not an exception or a corner case,” said Sparks. Fully 73 percent of public libraries provide help with job applications and interviewing skills and 68 percent have programs to help library customers use electronic search tools to find job openings. More than a third offer work spaces for mobile workers.
Fourth, libraries are increasingly also playing a role as so-called “second responders” in communities in the wake of disaster and disruption.
Sparks cited the Far Rockaway branch of the Queens Library’s continued programming of it’s “children’s hour” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy – even though it had no heat or power, or the Orlando library’s hosting an art gallery after the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in 2016.
“The librarians hoped to give children a sense of normalcy during a time when nearly everything in the community was disrupted,” he said.
Dumping on the FCC’s process of collecting and publishing broadband data
Starks offered as much criticism of the FCC’s broadband mapping program as he offered praise of libraries and their role in addressing digital divides. He said that the agency’s maps overstate service availability because of the way it shows an entire census block as “served” only if one provider says that it provides service on the block.
He also said that the agency’s maps “depict carrier-reported data without subjecting it to audits, or, in certain cases, even basics sanity checks.”
He cited the agency’s recently-released broadband deployment report as a “glaring demonstration of this problem. The first draft of this Report was based on data that overstated high speed broadband connections by more than 62 million – that’s more than the populations of Washington, Texas, Michigan, and Illinois put together. This is troubling because the FCC never caught the error, an outside party did.”
Additionally, Starks conducted a “fireside chat” with Larry Irving, the former administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the Clinton administration, and the man credited with coining the term “digital divide.”
In the conversation with Irving, Starks cited three additional reasons why it was imperative for the federal government to take steps to address the digital divide: Unless the digital divide is ameliorated, individuals lacking access to good-quality broadband will increasingly suffer deprivations in their Individual dignity, their economic development opportunities – including being able to engage in activities like telework – and civic engagement.
Broadband Breakfast Panelists Pitch Solutions for Finer Broadband Mapping Data
Experts argue for significant changes in order for broadband mapping efforts to be successful.
July 13, 2021—A federal mandate to get granular broadband data down to the doorstep would greatly speed up deployment, according to panelists on the latest Broadband Breakfast event last week.
Brian Webster, CEO of Wireless Mapping Inc., said on the panel the current Form 477 – which collects data on a broader census tract level to see which providers serve which areas – is not a great metric for measuring broadband coverage, and argued for better, higher-quality, and specific data.
That could be in the form of a federal mandate that would make 9-1-1 data public domain, he said on the July 7 event. This would allow other entities to determine specific buildings to better understand the layout of an area.
Webster pointed to New York as a state that had already done this and said that states that lock this data behind a paywall will continue to fall behind in their broadband deployment efforts. He said one of the great challenges is determining what kinds of buildings occupy a certain area; even if data accounts for a building, it may not distinguish a barn or a shed from an apartment or office building.
He also pointed to the U.S. national grid as an alternative to Form 477, where internet service providers would fill in their coverage areas down to the square meter across a blank grid representing the geography of the U.S., as opposed to simply using census blocks. He said that either of these approaches—or a combination of the two—would be an improvement on the current mapping models used by the FCC.
“[Form 477] gets to be problematic to use as a metric,” he said. “The problem is that it is one of those standardized things that everyone gravitates to.” Webster lauded the use of building data, such as those used in Costquests collection model, as it paints a more reliable picture the landscape that networks need to cover.
Problems with Form 477
The problems with Form 477, which relies on ISP data, have been documented going back years. Earlier this year, the FCC announced it has been working on improving its mapping by collating more granular data and unifying it, with participation from the industry, to help find missing connectivity spots.
The agency has been under fire since allegations emerged that it had used erroneous data from ISPs to provide snapshots of connectivity in rural America. The data, the 2019 allegation goes, was used by chairman Ajit Pai to ostensibly show that millions more Americans were connected to the federal speed standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload from 2016 to 2017. That was then corrected in a subsequent press release.
In March, a bipartisan-signed letter addressed to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called on the FCC to improve and update the existing maps.
Better data methods?
Mike Wilson, vice president of business development for data company CostQuest, argued why the existing data can be lacking and why his firm’s own data is more accurate.
On Wednesday’s live event, Wilson argued that CostQuest’s “Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric” has shown that some areas once believed to be served, according to the FCC 477 census data, are only partially served at best.
According to CostQuest’s data, when using the company’s algorithm, the number of unserved locations increased by almost five million when compared to FCC data.
“Think about how that [bad broadband data] impacts policy making, funding, and build-outs by state,” Wilson said. “What that means economically is that it is going to cost a lot more to serve these locations that are unserved.”
The impact of a vacillating definition of broadband
Brian Mefford, vice president of broadband strategy for Vetro Fiber, pointed to a potential pitfall, in that as efforts to shift the definition of broadband continue to grow, some areas that are currently considered served may drop off the map.
Currently, any network capable of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload is considered broadband. Some advocates and legislators believe that this definition is not aligned with how Americans currently use the internet and want broadband to be considered any network that is capable of 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
“This creates the need for states to play multi-leveled chess,” Mefford said. He explained that a situation like this could lead to a scramble to figure out who is served, who is now considered unserved, who is deserving of grant money, and how to attract new providers to supply broadband in the state.
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the July 7, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Broadband Mapping is Back!”
Before the conversation of broadband deployment can even begin, accurate broadband maps must exist. Without sufficient mapping data, broadband providers may invest in areas that already have ample coverage, or worse yet, they may overlook areas desperately in need of coverage. Join Broadband Breakfast for a deep dive into the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that broadband build-outs are cost effective, future-proof, and able to meet the demands of the people they serve.
- Brian Mefford, Vice President of Broadband Strategy, Vetro Fiber
- Mike Wilson, Vice President of Business Development, Costquest
- Brian Webster, CEO, Wireless Mapping Inc.
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast
Brian Mefford joined VETRO with a wealth of experience helping to shape federal and state broadband programs and leading community broadband efforts in rural areas. Prior to VETRO, Brian founded Connected Nation, a nonprofit focused on enriching community broadband access. During his time at Connected Nation, Brian led the spin out of CNX, a platform for establishing public/private broadband network deployment partnerships that provided the nexus at which Brian first met and worked with the founders of VETRO to develop a 5G asset management solution. Brian has worked with government leaders at all levels to advance innovation, providing testimony regularly for state legislatures and the U.S. Congress and consulting with federal agencies including the FCC, NTIA, USDA and the State Department.
Mike Wilson, vice president of business development for Costquest, focuses his consulting efforts in the areas of rural telecommunications policy, universal service funding, interconnection, and operational analysis for wireless, competitive, and incumbent local carriers. Prior to joining CostQuest, he worked at Western Wireless/Alltel. He managed Wireless Interconnection, focusing on carrier negotiations and reducing Cost of Service for Alltel’s wireless business unit. Prior to Alltel’s merger with Western Wireless, his work was related to Universal Service Funding.
Brian Webster has been in the commercial wireless and broadband industry as an RF engineer and GIS/Mapping analyst for 31 years. For the past 19 years he has been a consultant where he worked on the National Broadband Map in the states of Illinois and New York. His broadband data analytics and mapping skills have been utilized by both governmental agencies and grant applications alike.
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. In addition to representing public and private providers on broadband issues, Drew is actively involved in issues surrounding interconnected Voice-over-Internet-Protocol service, spectrum licenses, robocalling including STIR/SHAKEN, and the provision of video franchises and “over-the-top” copyrighted content.
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As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
Washington State’s Russ Elliot Touts Mapping to the Doorstep as Key to Success
Washington State’s head of broadband says mapping to the premises paying dividends in the state.
April 28, 2021—Washington state’s use of broadband mapping to the doorstep could be a model for deployment success in the country, said the head of the state’s broadband office.
“We built one of the most compelling maps in the country,” said Russ Elliot at the Route Fifty “Digital Divide” event Tuesday. “We’re mapping down to the doorstep,” adding in 2021, broadband mapping must occur on a much more precise level.
“Broadband is no longer census blocks, and counties,” Elliot said. “It’s now streets and addresses.”
The conference heard about Elliot’s role as head of the Washington State Broadband Office and how he means to achieve his goals in this role.
Funding and mapping
Elliot attributes much of Washington’s success to the specificity of their planning stage—both as it pertains to the funding required and their mapping efforts. Elliot made it clear that shovel-ready projects in Washington only receive the greenlight once they have made evaluations for very specific monies.
Though the cost of deployment may be high, Elliot argued that that cannot be an obstacle. “No longer can we be thinking in context of, ‘Well, that’s too expensive to build.’ We have to start thinking of context of, “What is it going to cost if we don’t [build]?’”
Specific funding coupled with what he touts as Washington’s superior mapping, is what Elliot claims has made Washington’s broadband deployment successful.
Before he was appointed to lead the Washington State Broadband Office by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019, Elliot served as the broadband manager for the Wyoming Business Council. Before that, he had spent eleven years in the private sector working to deploy broadband to rural communities.
Elliot established early on that his philosophy regarding deployment is that it must be a “community-up discussion.” He said that every dialogue about expanding broadband must begin at the community level, and that expansion will only be successful if the uniqueness of the needs of every community are recognized.
He said that before his team even begins the planning stage, they build a partnership with the communities in question by understanding who they will be serving. These partnerships foster communication, professional and personal relationships, and improved stakeholder collaboration. He explained that it was only after they facilitate this relationship of mutual understanding that they enter the planning stage.
Elliot also emphasized that this not an effort that can be successful exclusively through public investment; he was adamant that expansion efforts will be most successful when communities leverage public-private relationships to accomplish their goals.
“Washington State understands that we didn’t become a state that’s very well connected based on all public infrastructure,” Elliot said. “We got there based on good, sound investment by private providers—we have to honor that investment, and bring forward public investment where the private investment doesn’t make sense.”
In conclusion, Elliot put it plainly, “Broadband doesn’t get built overnight,” he said. He acknowledged that this is a plan for the long haul, and it will take years to complete, “My five-year-old will be paying for it in about 15-20 years. If he is paying for it and he is not able to use the infrastructure that we’re paying for today, shame on me, and shame on all of us.”
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.
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