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Broadband Mapping

Broadband Maps Largely Unreliable, Say Panel Members  

Elijah Labby

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Screenshot of Russ Elliot, director of the Washington State Broadband Office, from the webinar

May 20, 2020 — Broadband Breakfast Live Online panelists on Wednesday said that current broadband maps are insufficient and that they are harming the people they are meant to serve.

 

The forum was an opportunity for participants to describe the state of broadband in their respective areas as well as the applications of various services during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Speakers included Glenn Fishbine, chief technology officer at NEO Partners, LLC, Eric Frederick, vice president for community affairs at Connected Nation, Brian Webster, CEO of Wireless Mapping Inc. and Russ Elliot, director of the Washington State Broadband Office.

 

The event was moderated by Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, also a telecom attorney who has been a leading voice advocating for improved broadband mapping efforts and a rational geo-spatial system for collecting data. As the former executive director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, he implemented a widely respected geographic information system for collecting data from internet service providers.

 

Frederick began by displaying a graphic showcasing areas in which Connected Nation had low confidence in broadband connectivity reports — which included almost all supposedly connected regions.

The confidence ratings draw from an algorithm developed by Connected Nation that considers several factors and to determine low, medium or high data confidence.

“It essentially takes the Form 477 data and provides a confidence rating to it based on household density, number of providers technology, transmission speeds, all those different things…” Frederick said. “You can see that there’s lots of red areas.”

Facilities-based broadband service companies are required to file data to the Federal Communications Commission twice a year through Form 477. But Fishbine said that, according to NEO Partners’ findings, broadband companies were drastically overreporting their connectivity rates.

For example, a Minnesota broadband company called Radio Link Internet offers 300-megabyte symmetric wireless, which disqualifies areas under its service for grants. But a NEO Partners study found that Radio Link had not undergone an LTD speed test in the previous 12 months.

“We are seeing the impact of bad reporting by individual ISPs either because they’re clumsy or they don’t know what they’re doing or because the process is broken,” Fishbine said. “But this is taking a large number of communities out of the pool of potential grant applications.”

Webster said that for broadband maps to transition away from clunky inaccuracy, they have to move to the household level.

“If you’re in communities that have really good 901 coordinators and programs — like in New York state, where they’ve literally mapped all the addresses to rooftops now, not to just an assumption of a road and things like that — that can really help any of these initiatives.”

Clark agreed. “Founding Broadband Census was an effort to get broadband data at the address level when the FCC was saying, ‘No, ZIP codes are fine,’” he added.  Broadband Census was a sister data-collection company to the media and events company Broadband Breakfast.

Late last year, the FCC kicked off a new proposed system for more granular broadband data through the introduction of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection effort. It would require broadband providers to offer a place where consumers can report outages and insufficient service.

At the time, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the move the agency’s most effective yet.

“This represents the commission’s biggest step yet to close the digital divide and will connect some of the hardest-to-serve areas of our country,” he said.

Broadband Mapping

FCC Speed Test App To Improve Broadband Mapping, Agency Says

The agency hopes its new speed test will inform an initiative for more accurate broadband maps.

Tim White

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April 12, 2021 – As part of the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to collect comprehensive data on broadband availability across the United States, the agency is encouraging the public to download its Speed Test app, it announced Monday.

The FCC is using data collected from the app as part of the Measuring Broadband America program. The app provides a way for consumers to test the performance of their mobile and in-home broadband networks. In addition to showing network performance test results to the user, the app provides the test results to the FCC while protecting the privacy and confidentiality of program volunteers. It is available on the major app stores.

“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Expanding the base of consumers who use the FCC Speed Test app will enable us to provide improved coverage information to the public and add to the measurement tools we’re developing to show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.”

The network coverage and performance information gathered from the Speed Test data will help to inform the commission’s efforts to collect more accurate and granular broadband deployment data. The app will also be used in the future for consumers to challenge provider-submitted maps when the Broadband Data Collection systems become available.

The FCC has been working to improve its broadband mapping system from Form 477 for several years. Development of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system began in August 2019, and Rosenworcel created a task force in February 2021 to advance that system. On April 7, the agency announced May 7 as the date for establishing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

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Broadband Mapping

Closing Digital Divide Starts With Accurate Maps, Says Gigi Sohn

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of Gigi Sohn from the webinar

March 15, 2021 – Gigi Sohn, former president of advocacy group Public Knowledge, said authorities at the Federal Communications Commission and the states need to start with good broadband maps to see where connectivity gaps exist.

“Start at square one, and that is with good data and good maps,” said Sohn, who was speaking at a virtual LGBT Bar Association event on March 10. “Right now, the data the FCC is using to determine where there is broadband and where there is not is grossly inaccurate.”

Good policy cannot be done with bad maps, she said, but she added progress is being made with Congress’ passing of the Broadband DATA Act and the FCC receiving than $98 million to deploy mapping. However, she noted that the FCC is moving “a little slower than she would prefer” to build these maps.

In December, the FCC awarded $9.2 billion in funding from the first round of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Sohn said, however, that the money was doled out with bad maps.

She said part of the problem is that different federal agencies are lacking coordination with maps, which creates duplicate decisions and more bureaucracy.

One solution lies in getting the state agencies involved. “The states cannot be left out of the calculation. There must need to be a blueprint to where the funding is going to go so there is no duplication and everybody can be served,” said Sohn.

“Unfortunately, because it is taking the FCC so long to build these maps, the states are doing by themselves,” she added.

Georgia and Maine, for example, are beginning to go it alone with their own broadband maps.

“I do believe the state maps are going to be more granular than what the federal government is going to come up with,” Sohn said.

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Broadband Data

New Broadband Mapping Fabric Will Help Unify Geocoding Across the Broadband Industry, Experts Say

Tim White

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

March 11, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new “fabric” for mapping broadband service across America will not only help collect more accurate data, but also unify geocoding across the broadband industry, industry experts said during a Federal Communications Bar Association webinar Thursday.

Broadband service providers are not geocoding experts, said Lynn Follansbee of US Telecom, and they don’t know where all the people are.

The new fabric dataset is going to be very useful to get a granular look at what is and what is not served and to harmonize geocoding, she said.

AT&T’s Mary Henze agreed. “We’re a broadband provider, we’re not a GIS company,” she said. Unified geocode across the whole field will help a lot to find missing spots in our service area, she said.

The new Digital Opportunity Data Collection fabric is a major shift from the current Form 477 data that the FCC collects, which has been notoriously inaccurate for years. The effort to improve broadband mapping has been ongoing for years, and in 2019 US Telecom in partnership with CostQuest and other industry partners created the fabric pilot program.

That has been instrumental in lead to the new FCC system, panelists said. It is called a “fabric” dataset because it is made up of other datasets that interlace like fabric, Follansbee explained.

The fabric brings new challenges, especially for mobile providers, said Chris Wieczorek of T-Mobile. With a whole new set of reporting criteria to fill out the fabric, it will lead to confusion for consumers, and lots of work for the new task force, he said.

Henze said that without the fabric, closing the digital divide between those with broadband internet and those without has been impossible.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection expected to help better map rural areas

The new mapping can help in rural areas where the current geolocation for a resident may be a mailbox that is several hundred feet or farther away from the actual house that needs service, Follansbee said.

Rural areas aren’t the only places that will benefit, though. It can also help in dense urban areas where vertical location in a residential building is important to getting a good connection, said Wieczorek.

The fabric will also help from a financial perspective, because of the large amount of funding going around, said Charter Communications’ Christine Sanquist. The improved mapping can help identify where best to spend that funding for federal agencies, providers, and local governments, she said.

There is now more than $10 billion in new federal funding for broadband-related projects, with the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December 2020 and the new $7.6 Emergency Connectivity Fund part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.

The new FCC task force for implementing the new mapping system was created in February 2021, and is being led by , led by Jean Kiddoo at the FCC. No specific dates have been set yet for getting the system operational.

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