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Broadband Mapping & Data

NTIA Broadband Webinar With Pew, Georgia and Tennessee Officials Discuss Solutions to Digital Divides

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Photo of Kathryn de Wit, manager of the Broadband Research Initiative at Pew Charitable Trusts, by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, February 20, 2020— State broadband officials play a crucial role in addressing the digital divide, and officials from Georgia and Tennessee presented their best practices on the topic during a Wednesday webinar hosted by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Also rounding out the panel was Kathryn de Wit, manager of the Broadband Research Initiative at Pew Charitable Trusts. She presented Pew’s findings from a report analyzing all 50 states’ efforts in expanding broadband access.

Pew’s data collection involved conducting interviews on the field and attending broadband council meetings in the states.

The foundation’s research unveiled five key aspects that separated the truly earnest from the truly successful: engaging stakeholders, having a strong policy framework, supporting planning, state funding, and constant self-evaluation.

De Wit’s research also broached three “near universal truths of broadband practices” that were present in all successful state-led broadband expansion programs: The importance of having the state government’s support, the importance of having a transparent and interested broadband provider, and the role of “neutral advocates” that state officials are perceived as having by both providers and communities.

Deana Perry, executive director of the Georgia Rural Broadband Program, offered more specific advice from her own experience in a three-year broadband program in her state. These changes occurred by action of Georgia Senate Bill 402, passed in 2018.

State Bill 402 took advantage of Georgia’s structure of interagency communication, said Perry.

For example, the advisory committee consisted of representatives from economic development councils, electric co-ops, and the University of Georgia, and committee members included representatives from AT&T, Georgia communications companies, government officials, and Comcast.

Georgia also put together its own statewide broadband map, opting not to use the FCC’s much-criticized Form 477 data.

Crucially, Georgia officials defined an “unserved area” as an area in which less than 80 percent of the population within a census block did not have broadband access.

The Form 477 data simply requires one resident in an entire census block to be able to get access to broadband service for an area to be considered “covered” – and ultimately neglected by entities seeking to bring high-capacity internet.

Georgia collected address data from local governments and sent an address master list to providers asking for confirmation of coverage availability. This allowed providers to correct many of the errors made by the FCC’s methodology.

Lastly, Crystal Ivey, broadband director of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, relayed the methods she and her colleagues found effective in expanding broadband in the state.

Ivey credited funding breakthroughs as enabling this expansion. In the past two years that grants have been awarded to providers, $25 million in funds has been awarded.

Notably, more than half of these providers are electric co-ops, which became eligible under Tennessee’s liberal broadband law which passed in 2018. Ivey anticipates a funding increase of $5 million for Tennessee this year.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Right Track or Wrong Track on Mapping? Panel 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 2 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.

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Video from Panel 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Moderated by David McGarry, Reporter, Broadband Breakfast, with Bryan Darr, Executive Vice President of Smart Communities, Ookla, Mike Conlow, Director of Network Strategy, Cloudflare, and Jim Stegeman, President, CostQuest Associates.

For a free article summarizing the event, see ‘It Is a Concern’: FCC Contractor Responds to Commercial Conflict Concerns Over Map Challenge Process: CostQuest’s CEO said states need to look at their vendors if they pose a problem challenging FCC map data, Broadband Breakfast, November 17, 2022

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC Maps Have ‘Misleading’ Satellite Claims, Need Clarity on Challenge Process: Advocacy Group

The commission published the initial draft of its map Friday, unleashing a storm of controversy in the industry circles.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – Advocacy group Public Knowledge alleged in a letter on Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission’s newly released map includes “misleading” coverage claims of satellite broadband providers and asked the commission to demystify the national broadband map’s bulk challenge process.

The commission published the initial draft of its map Friday, unleashing a storm of controversy in industry circles. While many agree that the map’s granular, location-level model is superior to the previous Form 477–based, census-block model, some worry that much the new map’s data is deeply inaccurate.

“State broadband offices, local communities, and community based organizations have noted a number of inaccuracies in the new broadband maps,” Public Knowledge wrote in its filing, authored by Jenna Leventoff of the advocacy group, and submitted on behalf of her, Harold Feld, and Greg Guice of Public Knowledge.

The group argued the map overestimates the capabilities of satellite broadband. “Satellite broadband, in theory, is capable of serving most locations in the country,” the filing reads. “However, in practice, satellite providers cannot serve the whole country at broadband speeds.”

The NTIA, in its notice of funding opportunity for the BEAD program, classified locations served exclusively by satellites as unserved. In August, the FCC rescinded Starlink’s $885 million grant from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, alleging unreliability. Besides private advocates such as think tank TechFreedom, FCC commissioners Nathan Simington and Brendan Carr have criticized the agency’s RDOF flip-flop. Starlink appealed in September.

Problems with the challenge process

Public Knowledge also took issue with the process by which the public can challenge the maps’ accuracy. “Although eager to challenge those inaccuracies,” it wrote, “Many expressed confusion over the bulk challenge process, with one even noting that they did not think it was possible.” The advocacy group also asked the commission to clarify the treatment of submitted speed test data.

The FCC scheduled a webinar on the bulk-challenge process for fixed-availability data for November 30, at 4 p.m. ET.

Regardless of accuracy, the FCC’s data will shape the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s state-by-state allocations from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, which are scheduled to be announced in June 2023. To ensure challenges are factored into the NTIA’s decision making, the agency has encouraged potential challengers to submit data before January 13, 2023 – less than two months after the map was made available.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Commercial Mapping Products Positioned to Compliment, Challenge FCC Map

Commercial mapping products are emerging as complementary resources for both industry and government players.

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Photo of J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2022 – Although the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is statutorily bound to rely on the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map when dividing the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment fund among the states, private sector broadband mappers are positioning their own products as complementary resources for both industry and government players.

The FCC’s map went live Friday. J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, on Monday told Broadband Breakfast he has already incorporated data from the map into his “Infrastructure Essentials BEAD Toolkit,” which provides block-level coverage data as well as information on population density, income distribution, federal funding programs, and more. Luening said his toolkit aims to integrate all data that is relevant to BEAD-related decision making.

Another company that does mapping, Broadband.Money, is framing its product as a means by which to challenge the FCC’s data. The platform announced Thursday that subscribers can access features that enable analysis of location-level data, multi-unit locations, and anchor institutions.

Earlier this month, the NTIA said it plans to announce BEAD allocations by June 2023 and encouraged the public to submit challenge data by January to ensure they are processed in time to affect funding decisions.

NTIA head Alan Davidson, like the FCC, emphasized the importance of a robust challenge process: “The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” he said.

“The FCC’s upcoming challenge process is one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps guiding us as we allocate major…awards in 2023,” Davidson argued. “I urge every state and community that believes it can offer improvements to be part of this process so that we can deliver on the promise of affordable, reliable high-speed internet service for everyone in America.”

CostQuest Associates, the creator of the fabric, and competitor LightBox also offer commercial mapping services. CostQuest beat out LightBox for the FCC’s fabric contract and staved off LightBox’s attempt to challenge the decision.

Broadband.Money, LightBox, and Broadband Toolkit are sponsors of Broadband Breakfast.

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