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Broadband Mapping

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Gives the Broadband Scoreboard at SHLB: FCC Maps-0, Libraries-1

Drew Clark

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Photo of Geoffrey Starks, with Larry Irving in the background, by Drew Clark

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.

The full text of Stark’s formal speech is available online. Broadband Breakfast is media sponsor of SHLB’s #AnchorNets2019 conference.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Broadband Mapping

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.

Tim White

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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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Broadband Mapping

Closing Digital Divide Starts With Accurate Maps, Says Gigi Sohn

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of Gigi Sohn from the webinar

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.

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Broadband Data

New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

Tim White

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

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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