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CostQuest and The CommLaw Group Join to Host Fine-Grained Webinar on Rural Digital Opportunity Fund

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Photo by Larisa Koshkina used with permission

TYSONS, Virginia, and CINCINNATI, Ohio, April 14, 2020 – Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, The CommLaw Group, and CostQuest Associates have announced a free webinar, “How to Prepare and Effectively Bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction,” on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, at 12 Noon ET.

The webinar will be focused for companies that are thinking about bidding to win a share of the $20 billion in federal broadband funds from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction.

Building on the Connect America Fund reverse auction, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to conduct “Auction 904: Rural Digital Opportunity Fund,” beginning October 22, 2020.

The webinar is hosted by the “broadband fabric” data and mapping experts at CostQuest Associates and attorneys from Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, also known as The CommLaw Group.

The webinar is expected to give organizations the information they need to strategically assess their ability to bid for, win, and to offer broadband services through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“Now is the time to get your ducks in a row,” said Jonathan S. Marashlian, managing partner at The CommLaw Group, speaking about the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction.

“Now is the time to ensure your company has access to the best data with which to evaluate the opportunity, formulate bidding strategies, and line up financing,” he said.

“The broadband serviceable location fabric have given us all a large step toward a vastly improved foundation for service availability identification and closing the digital divide,” James W. Stegman, CEO of the Cincinnati-based CostQuest, recently testified before Congress.

“If the fabric is to provide the critical foundation for these efforts, it will need to be made available across the U.S. and used … in programs like the forthcoming Rural Digital Opportunities Fund,” he said. “RDOF will clearly benefit from the improved targeting of funds as a result of its use.”

Mapping, legal and compliance knowledge well-honed toward Rural Digital Opportunity Fund applicants

The two entities hosting the webinar are among the most well-suited to help Rural Digital Opportunity Fund applicants succeed in the auction.

CostQuest has distinguished itself with its fine-grained tools for broadband mapping and analysis. The attorneys at the CommLaw Group and its sister company, The Commpliance Group, have helped hundreds of companies comply with the FCC’s Form 477, as well as fulfilling other broadband and telecommunications reporting and filing requirements.

In teaming up with CostQuest, the attorneys at The CommLaw Group will help providers of broadband services mitigate risk and maximize opportunity using unique data and expertise to make more accurate assessments.

For example, in a prior webinar CostQuest identified at least six important stets in assessing the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund potential:

  1. Basic Assessment
  2. Competitor Identification
  3. Competitor Cost Evaluation
  4. Competitor Speed and Latency Weighting Estimation
  5. Coverage Proximity and Cost Estimation
  6. Data Analysis and Reporting

The uses to which CostQuest data can be put are well demonstrated by the utility of the company’s “broadband fabric,” which incorporates tax assessor information, building polygon datasets and parcel boundaries to create geospatial reference for mapping broadband deployment.

While there is nothing bad about a shapefile-based approach, Stegeman has said: “You need an underlying fabric to determine what the shapefile means.”

Attorneys at The CommLaw Group have experience with FCC regulatory and compliance processes, with spectrum auctions and reverse auctions, and with the sub-census block components of broadband data and mapping necessary to make a successful bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Action.

The presenters at the webinar, which is free and open to all for registration, will walk potential applicants through a step-by-step guide that will help them evaluate, prepare for, strategize and participate in, and when successful, comply with the FCC rules and regulations applicable to fund recipients.

The agenda for the webinar is as follows:

  1. Introduction – What we have learned about reverse auctions through the Connect America Fund, and what is new about the RDOF.
  2. Timeline for Initial Regulatory Filings.
  3. Why good data is essential for a successful RDOF application, and what CostQuest data brings to your application.
  4. Assessment of broadband data in the context of your RDOF application, how you can obtain the support you need for your application, and post-grant compliance with FCC regulation.

To register for the webinar, please visit “How to Prepare and Effectively Bid in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction” to secure your spot on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at 12 Noon ET.

Author Drew Clark, the Editor of Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, is also a telecommunications attorney at Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, The CommLaw Group. Clark served as executive director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, the State Broadband Initiative in the land of Lincoln. PCI engaged in broadband mapping and planning, infrastructure investment, and digital literacy training.

For more than a decade, Clark has been one of country’s leading voices advocating for improved broadband mapping efforts and a rational geospatial system for collecting broadband data. The CommLaw Group and its sister company, The Commpliance Group, have helped hundreds of companies comply with the Form 477 and other FCC requirements. See Clark’s article, “Broadband Maps Are a Mess, So Now Let’s Focus on Actually Improving Them,” which originally appeared in Broadband Communities in July 2019.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark is a nationally respected U.S. telecommunications attorney. An early advocate of better broadband, better lives, he founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for better broadband data in 2008. That effort became the Broadband Breakfast media community. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over news coverage focused on digital infrastructure investment, broadband’s impact, and Big Tech. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Clark served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way. He also helps fixed wireless providers obtain spectrum licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. 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 & Data

States Face Roadblocks in Challenge Processes, FCC Tries to Facilitate

The BEAD timeline looms large for many who worry that two months is insufficient time to correct the map.

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Photo of Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – As state broadband offices scramble to submit challenges to the national broadband map, the Federal Communications Commission is working to provide much-needed resources to help stakeholders through the often-opaque challenge processes.

The FCC’s new broadband map, released in November, provides location-level data of broadband availability nationwide. The map is comprised primarily of two datasets: a list of all broadband serviceable locations – the “fabric” – and provider-submitted availability data. The accuracy of both can be challenged by the public through designated processes.

The FCC has endeavored to create a consumer-friendly challenge-process, said Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the Wireline Competition Bureau. “We do try to make the process as flexible and accessible as it can be consistent with getting effective challenges and resolving them correctly,” he explained.

Burgee spoke at an FCC webinar held Wednesday to demystify the fixed-availability bulk-challenge process.

The FCC’s availability data will largely determine the distribution of the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program among the states. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the subdivision of the Department of Commerce which administers the BEAD funds, has advised the public to submit challenges by January 13, 2022, to ensure they are considered for BEAD grants – scheduled to be announced in June.

The immediate stakes of accurate mapping

If the FCC’s data is inaccurate when the NTIA calculates the allocations, some states could be shorted on badly needed funding. Some industry players say the map is concerningly inaccurate, and others say the FCC’s challenge processes may prove prohibitively complex.

Georgia has yet to submit fabric challenges, although it intends to, wrote Joshua Hildebrandt, the state’s director of broadband initiatives, in correspondence with Broadband Breakfast.

“So far, we have encountered a number of hurdles that have made a quick challenge submission difficult to do,” Hildebrandt explained. “Georgia is fortunate to have a considerable amount of data, which helped us create one of the nation’s first public statewide address-level broadband service maps.

“However, even with all of this applicable data in-house,” he added, “The FCC’s process for challenging fabric locations on a one-by-one basis still requires substantial effort and time.”

“The fabric is an enormous challenge, but we are very disappointed in the quality of the fabric and, more importantly, the insistence on using it and moving forward,” David Lukens, Connecticut’s broadband-mapping coordinator, told Broadband Breakfast.

“The FCC’s burdensome challenge process incentivizes…challenges focused only on potential BEAD project area,” he added.

Several state broadband officials told Broadband Breakfast that they have, by necessity, thus far submitted fabric challenges primarily for unserved areas, leaving the FCC’s data for numerous locations in better-served areas uncorrected. Some say, however, that they will submit additional challenges going forward.

The challenge process may work, but some say time is running short for BEAD

Spokespeople for the FCC and CostQuest have routinely acknowledged the errors in the map’s first draft and urged stakeholders to submit challenges to correct them. Some experts, including Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute, say inaccuracies are inevitable, but the challenge process will largely ameliorate them in time.

The BEAD timeline looms large for many who worry that less than two months – the interval between the map’s November release and January 13 – is insufficient time to correct the map. And like any massive undertaking, smaller entities struggle to keep up.

Kansas’ broadband director, Jade Piros de Carvalho, told Broadband Breakfast her small team lacks the bandwidth to submit a bulk challenge at all. Piros de Carvalho has encouraged her fellow Kansans to submit their own challenge. “Currently the FCC shows KS at about 5 percent unserved. We are more likely closer to 15 percent unserved, and that difference will have a direct negative impact on the dollars we receive,” she wrote Monday.

Maine will take a multi-stakeholder approach that will mobilize communities and regional partners, Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, told Broadband Breakfast. In addition, the state itself plans to submit bulk-availability and fabric challenges by January 13, Butcher said.

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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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