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In the Quest to Build a Better Map, Many Non-Profits and Consultants Bring Creativity and Grit to Broadband Data

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Photo of Vint Cerf at Measurement Lab 10th anniversary event by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, February 26, 2020 – Independent actors are leading the way in fixing the widely-identified flaws with the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 broadband mapping data, and they are using creative methods to do so.

Four groups in particular — CostQuest Associates, Measurement Lab, Internet-is-Infrastructure, and NEO Partners LLC — have been mining alternative data sources to the Form 477 data while also using creative technologies that have historically hindered the FCC’s data collection efforts.

CostQuest Associates

CostQuest Associates caters mainly to businesses and serves “to prepare economic, cost, and business intelligence papers, presentations, and workshops before legal and regulatory bodies,” according to its website.

A February 11, 2020, webinar provided advice for businesses on how to approach the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and submit an application for the reverse auction.

At the webinar, the company also laid out the Get.BroadbandFabric.com web address service, offering “serviceable structure without the noise.” The new service is targeted as “built for broadband” and “built for rural.”

Measurement Lab

As the Measurement Lab website recounts, the idea for the M-Lab came about in 2008 when Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers of the internet,” asked researchers what their biggest problem was. Their answer led to the creation of an openly available, open source software that the group describes as “the largest collection of open internet performance data on the planet.”

For historical background about Measurement Lab, see Broadband Breakfast’s two stories from August 2018, “Ten Years After the Beginning of Broadband Data Collection Efforts, M-Lab Gathers to Celebrate” and “M-Lab Celebrates 10 Years of Broadband Speed Tests, Discusses Work with Schools and Libraries.”

The M-Lab relies on private entities and academic researchers to add speed test data to the dataset and improve to the underlying code. The project has earned international recognition among countries who also face data collection challenges.

Additionally, it has generated enough interest to have attracted 36 different groups to a conference call in in late January with participants as far flung as Brazil and Italy.

Internet-is-Infrastructure.org

The I3 Connectivity Explorer is a broadband visualization tool meant to help individuals compare broadband options in different dimensions.

The tool, created by Robert Ballance, pools data from the M-Lab but also rounds it out with data from public agencies like the FCC, the Census Bureau, EPA, USDA, and ProPublica’s Congress API.

It updated its software at the end of January to include Dec 2019 FCC 477 datasets and demographics on Native Americans.

Also read about these three efforts in Drew Clark’s Broadband Communities feature about the need to collect broadband speeds, prices, availability, reliability and competition (the Broadband SPARC), in “Broadband Maps Are a Mess, So Now Let’s Focus on Actually Improving Them.”

NEO Partners LLC

NEO Partners LLC is betting on crowdsourcing as a way to improve on Form 477 data. it is novel in that it can achieve address-level granularity of individual speed testers, which federal agencies say they are prohibited from doing on privacy grounds.

NEO Partners’ tool also uses economic variables to predict costs for deployment, as well as a consumer’s choice of ISPs. In other words, it extrapolates costs for broadband services that are not currently available, so that communities can have insight into the costs of particular broadband projects.

More broadly, its data collection efforts are geared at measuring and pricing broadband access, as opposed to the more common but problematic measure of available access.

Conclusion

CostQuest Associates, Measurement Lab, Internet-is-Infrastructure, and NEO Partners are only a small sample of independent actors trying to improve the accuracy of what we know about broadband.

They differ on their purpose, motivation and target audience. But what they have in common is a desire for a better and more reliable broadband map.

Broadband Data

Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Data

FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Broadband Data

Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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