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Broadband Mapping & Data

Poor Broadband Maps and Lack of a Consolidated Voice Hinder Advocacy for Better Rural Internet

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Photo of Rep. Abigail Spanberger in November 2018 by Ezra Deutsch-Feldman used with permission

While there are helpful strategies to deploy rural broadband on the local level, significant barriers persist, said panelists at a local meeting on broadband in Disputana, Virginia, hosted by local members of Congress Reps. Donald McEachin and Abigail Spanberger, and livestreamed on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Feinman, of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration, said that there are ways to “sidestep” inaccurate broadband maps through direct communication with the public and broadband providers.

Unfortunately, with broadband maps, if there is one area of service in a census block, then the whole block is counted, said Feinman. He questioned the logic for census blocks being “rounded up” as “served” instead of “rounded down” as “unserved.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, also in attendance, agreed with Feinman. Starks said he believes in the “challenge process” because the maps are significantly unreliable.

Virginia Cable TV Association President Ray LaMura said that there needed to be “targeted policy changes” to aid in broadband deployment to unserved areas, like “reduc[ing] other buildout costs and delays” and “creat[ing] federal grant subsidy programs,” said LaMura.

LaMura also suggested using the same maps across the board and focusing funding on unserved areas.

“The average American family spends $2,700 dollars on their internet, cable, and on their phone,” and families need affordable broadband, said Starks.

Starks also expressed his concern for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund approved by the FCC on January 30, 2020. He said he was worried that ambiguities surrounding language regarding areas currently receiving state subsidies would disturb the federal/state relationship. This “penalizes the states,” said Starks.

As additional barriers to broadband deployment, LaMura mentioned the increased costs for utility poles.

Rep. Spanberger called for communities fighting for broadband to unite.

There is not a “consolidated voice,” and distance in the rural communities is a barrier to advocacy, said Spanberger.

Spanberger suggested utilizing the “pockets for advocacy” in schools and groups to raise awareness. The cost of bridging the digital divide will become exponentially greater if there isn’t prompt action, warned Spanberger.

Adrienne Patton was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. She studied English rhetoric and writing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She grew up in a household of journalists in South Florida. Her father, the late Robes Patton, was a sports writer for the Sun-Sentinel who covered the Miami Heat, and is for whom the press lounge in the American Airlines Arena is named.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Community Crowdsourcing Efforts Essential to Accessing Federal Broadband Funding

In the absence of reliable federal broadband mapping data, communities are taking matters into their own hands.

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Photo of Lai Yi Ohlsen and Dustin Loup by Jericho Casper

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 27, 2022 –Two data experts speaking at the Mountain Connect conference here on Wednesday said it was vital for the Federal Communications Commission to maintain transparency about its methods as it produces an updated broadband map.

The release of $42.5 billion in federal broadband funding through the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is contingent upon new broadband maps being produced by the Federal Communications Commission.

Agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has committed to delivering such maps by the fall. During a House Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight hearing on March 31, when asked about progress, she said: “Absolutely, yes. We will have [complete] maps in the fall.”

Completed Maps Will ‘Absolutely’ Be Available This Fall, FCC’s Rosenworcel Says

Still, many are skeptical.

In particular, states and localities are involved in data collection, too – if only to have data to challenge FCC maps. Lai Yi Ohlsen, director of Measurement Lab, and Dustin Loup, program manager of the National Broadband Mapping Coalition for the Marconi Society, said that detailing methodologies will be important to the challenge process.

Loup recommended that communities announce speed tests and include a survey in order to get a sense of where the participant is located, what plan they are paying for and encourage participants to take the test multiple times to see how Internet speeds fluctuate at different hours of the day.

Ohlsen and Loup also said that communities should provide speed tests in different languages and partner with community anchor institutions, local media, and radio stations for publicity.

Questions about the new federal map

The new broadband “fabric” under construction by the FCC aims to address granularity issues of previous maps by enabling address-by-address data. But as to the legitimacy of the new FCC maps, the duo said that the maps will still paint an inaccurate picture of where broadband is and is not accessible across the country.

This is because the data used to create the new maps, they said, will be based upon industry-advertised broadband speeds and not actual user-experienced speeds.

This is particularly worrisome because funds under the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program will be awarded to each state and territory will be primarily based on the number of locations considered to be unserved with broadband, as defined by 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) down by 3 Mbps up. This is why cities, counties, and states are currently creating strategies to crowdsource residents in order to develop their own broadband maps in the event that the FCC misrepresents internet access options available to their residents.

Challenge process

Although the NTIA is required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to use the FCC’s new mapping fabric, they will also be subject to new scrutiny.

In particular, local governments, nonprofit organizations and broadband service providers can produce their own data to challenge the eligibility of a locality for grant funding.

The challenge process will begin once the FCC’s new maps are made public. Any government entity or nonprofit with conflicting evidence will be able to file their findings through an FCC platform, said Ohlsen and Loup.

Providers will be automatically notified of the challenge and have 60 days to respond to the challenger, in order to try and resolve the inconsistencies. If the entities fail to resolve differences in the conflicting data, the FCC will be responsible for making the final decision.

Broadband Breakfast on June 1, 2022 — Broadband Mapping and Data

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022, 12 Noon ET –Broadband Mapping and Data

Now that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Notice of Funding Opportunity has been released, attention turns to a core activity that must take place before broadband infrastructure funds are distributed: The Federal Communications Commission’s updated broadband maps. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as implemented by the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, these address-level maps from the FCC will determine the allocation of funds among states and serve as a key source of truth. Our panelists will also consider the role of state-level maps, the NTIA challenge process and other topics. Join Broadband Breakfast as we return to one of the subjects that we know best: Broadband data and mapping.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Bryan Darr: Federal Broadband Funding is Available for Local Governments

Ookla can help your community get the funding you need to provide access for all to the digital economy.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Bryan Darr, vice president of Smart Communities at Ookla.

Local governments, the clock is ticking.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act set billions of dollars out on the infrastructure buffet table for local governments in the United States and there are more guests invited to the party than ever before.

This funding is almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect your community and provide access for all to the digital economy. The question is: will you be at the front or the back of the line?

Ookla can help you. This article is designed to give you the information you need to get started on the path toward getting the funding you need for your communities.

Look to your state for funding

Historically, broadband funding has had a very top-down approach.

The Federal Communications Commission has held almost all the power to determine where federal broadband infrastructure dollars have been spent. But for the first time, state governments will have an active role in guiding these decisions.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directs $65 billion to improving broadband connectivity across the U.S., with $42.45 billion earmarked for building new infrastructure.

Once the initial FCC map has been released, each state that has declared their intent to participate through National Telecommunications and Information Administration will be provided a minimum $100 million to get the process started (U.S. territories will split an additional $100 million).

Much of the remaining $22 billion will target affordability, but more on that later.

The race for resources will be officially off and running.

Following this initial disbursement, there will be roughly $37 billion more to be awarded from the IIJA alone.

Many states are still sitting on billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Acts and broadband is an allowable expenditure for these remaining stimulus dollars.

Add to that the long running connectivity programs such as Connect America Fund, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, Mobility Fund and the upcoming Rural 5G Fund, and all those programs combined approach $100 billion over the next decade.

Plan ahead to increase your competitiveness

Past programs have provided funding without setting proper expectations on results. More emphasis is now being placed on planning.

With a focus on estimated cost per service address, network design takes a front seat to ensure these resources are spent efficiently and state officials will be allowed to use up to five percent of this for mapping, designing, and cost estimation.

Most states are already planning, or already building, their own broadband availability maps. But if you have connectivity issues in your community, it’s time to make it known to those who will be responsible for directing funds and deciding which communities will see investment and which will not.

Ookla helped Loudoun County, Virginia secure $17 million

We have experience helping local governments navigate this challenging planning process.

When FCC Form 477 broadband availability data showed that nearly 100% of Loudoun residents have access to what the FCC defines as broadband (25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download, 3 Mbps upload), this was inconsistent with the connectivity experiences of county residents.

So the Loudoun Broadband Alliance chose to use Ookla Speedtest Intelligence® to create an accurate and reliable broadband access mapping methodology using real-world network performance data.

With this data, LBA identified a large number of unserved households in contrast to FCC data which showed them as served. Loudoun County was subsequently awarded over $17 million of funding to help eliminate the broadband gap.

Keep in mind that the maps will never be finished. They will change and evolve as the networks in your area grow.

Funded projects will need to be monitored for compliance and older networks will need to be watched for signs of deterioration. Everyone will need to keep an eye on progress, measure successes, and have the data to act early when projects go off track.

Acadiana, Louisiana used Speedtest data to win $30 million

With Speedtest data, the Acadiana Planning Commission was able to successfully challenge FCC maps on over 900 out of approximately 1,000 census blocks.

The APC applied for funding through the NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Program, which made $288 million in funding available to help close the digital divide in the U.S.. There were over 230 applicants, and only 13 grants were awarded.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Acadiana in March to announce that the APC had been awarded a $30 million grant that will fund high-speed internet in 11 rural Acadiana communities.

Think big! Broadband funding is available for more than just infrastructure

Accessibility to broadband requires at least four components: infrastructure, affordability, equipment, and knowledge. The lack of any one of these means an individual does not have access to today’s digital economy.

Much of the focus has been on the lack of infrastructure in many rural communities, but infrastructure is the absolutely essential piece for anyone in any community to get connected.

The second component, affordability, often drives the last two requirements as people who cannot afford internet service often cannot afford the necessary equipment and, therefore, are less likely to have developed the knowledge to use it.

Tracking both of these two primary elements is key to understanding the digital divide.

You might qualify for funding in more than one of these four areas. For example, over $14 billion in a new Affordable Connectivity Program is included in the broadband portion of the IIJA.

Remaining funds include $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Grant Program and the $2 billion Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, as well as two more programs that will assist the USDA improve the internet in agricultural communities.

Agencies and local governments should work together

Cities should be coordinating with counties and other government entities within the same region — but someone needs to be in charge.

If your local government does not have an individual charged with coordinating all these efforts, there is bound to be duplication of efforts, wasted resources, stagnation of ideas, or all of the above.

Whether this person reports directly to the chief technology officer, chief information officer, mayor, or city manager, their purpose is to understand what all departments are doing in the space and coordinate discussions, grant opportunities, and overlapping initiatives to make sure that departments aren’t working at cross purposes.

Non-profits, community activists, and local corporations all have a stake in the success of these efforts.

Traffic problems won’t suddenly end at the municipal boundary. Improving traffic on one side of the line may create more problems on the other side. Working together with your neighbors is just as important as working with internal departments. The same can be said of both fixed and wireless broadband infrastructure.

Dig-once projects will score extra points in the competition to have projects selected.

Broadband is only part of the $1.2 billion infrastructure law. Roads, bridges, ports, and rail have billions of dedicated dollars as well.

Digging a new trench for a clean water system? Coordinate with the project to include conduit and fiber and your efficient use of taxpayer funds will likely be rewarded.

Consider funding for multiple technologies

As great as it might be to provide every service address in the country with a fiber connection, it may not make economic sense in some places.

But an important detail was clearly stated in the legislation that recognizes a technology neutral stance on solutions.

The rules are not yet complete on how the FCC and NTIA will award the IIJA funds and contend with challenges to their findings, but there are certainly far fewer restrictions on the ARPA funds that are already disbursed to the states. Many connectivity projects are already underway whether through infrastructure development, equipment distribution, or subsidies for affordable service.

Wireless services can get people connected much faster and there are several forms.

Traditional mobile operators are rolling out 5G and Fixed Wireless Access in some areas that can directly compete with traditional fixed services. Wireless internet service providers have launched coverage to homes and businesses that previously had satellite as their only option.

Some municipalities and school systems have launched private 4G LTE networks to connect underserved areas in their communities. And municipal Wi-Fi can still be an important part of an overall solution.

A portion of families may never find subscribing to a fixed network practical, but wireless services allow for easier movement and some don’t even require a residence. Understanding wireless network availability and performance across your jurisdiction is just as important as planning a fiber network.

And here’s a bonus — cellular and other transmission sites need fiber for any new 5G cell site. So if you know where your wireless networks need additional infrastructure, you can plan for places in the network to offer them accessible fiber connections.

If your state still has ARPA funds available, you still have an opportunity to make improvements and learn more about connectivity issues so you are better able to make your case for the IIJA funds as they begin to flow.

Ookla can provide you with the data you need to be competitive for federal funding

It has been said for years that broadband is the fourth utility.

Local governments have spent a lot of their resources managing the first three: water, gas, and electricity.

If any of those become unavailable, even for a brief period of time, their citizens will make their unhappiness known. Resiliency of these services will play a part in how elected officials are judged, whether the local government supplies these services or just manages an external provider.

If you serve in local government, you should anticipate the same expectations going forward for broadband in your community.

The internet has become vital to the way we live our lives, and access to it dictates much of our success both as residents and businesses. Recognizing connectivity as a critical service may have been a consequence of a pandemic, but that change in thinking is here to stay.

That’s why Ookla is here to help you learn more about the connectivity in your area.

We’ve already helped local governments secure tens of millions of dollars in federal funding in Loudoun County, Virginia and Acadiana, Louisiana. We are also working with state broadband offices as well as municipalities to help them gain visibility into network availability and performance.

If you want your community to take advantage of the billions pouring into improving connectivity, get in line before it’s too late.

Drawn from billions of Speedtest results, Ookla’s Broadband Performance Dataset provides governments, regulators, ISPs, and mobile operators with insights about the state of fixed networks and broadband accessibility. The Broadband Performance Dataset helps you identify unserved and underserved areas, prioritize investment opportunities to improve access to broadband, challenge funding decisions, and secure grants.

To learn more about the Broadband Performance Dataset, Speedtest Intelligence, and other solutions for your state and/or local governments, please contact us.

Bryan Darr is the Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla. He coordinates Ookla’s outreach to local, state and federal governments and serves on CTIA’s Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Group. This piece was first published on Ookla’s web site, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband Mapping

Industry Concerned About Challenges of Getting Mapping Data to FCC

The FCC has a September deadline for mapping data it will begin collecting at the end of June.

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2022 – Key players in the broadband industry are under pressure to deliver coverage data to the Federal Communications Commission, as some expressed concern Monday about workforce availability and the costs of getting that data to the agency.

Specifically, the Federal Communications Bar Association event heard that certification requirements for professional engineers are causing concerns, especially among small internet providers. And workforce shortages are pushing hiring costs up, which small companies often cannot afford.

“Everybody is going to have different challenges depending on the size of the company,” Lynn Follansbee, vice president of strategic initiatives and partnerships at US Telecom, said at the FCBA event Monday.

A big company has “challenges just by sheer number of communities served” and smaller companies often don’t have sufficient manpower for efficiently reporting coverage, Follansbee added.

Chris Wieczorek, senior director of spectrum policy at T-Mobile, said the key is to strike a balance between accountability with proper certifications and small staff limitations.

The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act requires the FCC to collect new data from fixed broadband service providers to construct a new map, which is expected by this fall and will help federal programs deliver billions in funding to underserved and unserved areas. In April, the FCC released the preliminary broadband serviceable location fabric to help prepare providers for their data submissions due in September.

Christine Sanquist, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter, stated that although the FCC has provided the preliminary fabric, “the biggest challenge for Charter is really that the BDC requirements are so different from the Form 477 requirements,” which were the existing forms submitted by providers and which yielded data inaccuracies.

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