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Broadband Mapping & Data

Lifeline Remains the Best Method for Connecting All Americans, Says FCC’s Geoffrey Starks

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Photo by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, December 11, 2019 – The most vulnerable members of the population need to have the critical services they need from the Lifeline Program, Federal Communication Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said Tuesday at a Practicing Law Institute conference.

Lifeline remains the best method to keep every American connected, Starks continued. It can also help mitigate the disproportionate lack of connectivity and fixed broadband among communities of color. The success of programs such as Lifeline and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, he said, are contingent on accurate mapping.

The rural opportunity fund is a $20 billion dollar program that will appropriate money based off Form 477 data, Starks said, which the FCC already knows is inaccurate. He recommended that a portion of the fund be used to improve mapping.

The FCC used relatively liberal standards for RDOF’s model, said David LaFuria from Lukas, LaFuria, Gutierrez and Sachs, LLP, which isn’t indicative of ground coverage. The Digital Opportunity Data Collection can help reach the goal of more accurate mapping, he said, using machine learning and alternative data sets such as crowdsourcing to detect data anomalies.

Moreover, the FCC should consider setting aside more funds for small cell towers, LaFuria said. Small wireless carriers only have access to about 30 percent of fiber small cell sites, making it difficult for them to deploy broadband as well as 5G services.

The FCC needs to determine which areas are unserved and which aren’t, said Michael Romano, senior vice president of Industry Affairs and Business Development at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, starting at the 4G LTE level. There need to be ways to ensure that carriers are inputting data in the same way and that self-reporting is reliable.

The current state of FCC funding and connectivity standards, however, makes it difficult to deliver reliable coverage. Policymakers have a tough choice, LaFuria said. They can either provide a wide range of coverage with lower quality speeds or provide higher quality broadband to a narrower group.

As the next year looms in the distance, the FCC is pressed with time to deal with legislative issues before the election cycle.

The discussion of the C-Band spectrum is still in play, said Courtney Reinhard, vice president of Federal Government Relations at Verizon, and it can be handled in a variety of congressional committees. Successful legislation in this area is contingent on bipartisanship, she said, as well as a wide consideration of what each group of telecom companies thinks in the process.

Consideration from different industries is important, said David Grossman, executive director of GPS Innovation Alliance, as it can help clarify language in legislation. Defining a small business, for example, depends on the type of sector and the volume of customers it receives.

Discussions of security and supply chain issues have only just begun, said Kelsey Guyselman, senior director of government affairs at the Information Technology Industry Council. Infrastructure modernization is also a notable issue, she said, but it carries a large price tag that will have to be addressed in the coming year.

More interaction is expected between the FCC’s Office of Legislative Affairs and Congress, Guyselman said, mainly in the form of technical assistance. This allows policymakers to better deliver the information that their constituents need to know about telecom and broadband.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Native Americans Need Control Over Mapping Data, Conference Hears

Indigenous connectivity advocates said Native Americans should have control over their mapping data.

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Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University.

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.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

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.

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Left to right: Paul Sulisz, Gerry Lawlor, and Brian Medford.

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.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts

Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity

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Photo courtesy Heartland Forward

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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