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Broadband Mapping & Data

Federal Communications Commission Outlines Steps for a $16 Billion Broadband Opportunity in Rural America

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New Federal Communications Commission seal

May 7, 2020 — The Federal Communications Commission does not plan any delay in proceeding with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, according to agency officials speaking at a webinar on Tuesday.

The webinar walked attendees through the application process, timelines, as well as the “reverse auction” mechanisms for Phase I of the rural fund.  The agency plans to spend $16 billion in Phase I, followed by an additional Phase II in a separate auction.

The agency is still planning to begin the reverse auction on October 22, 2020, less than two weeks before election day.

Agency officials said that additional details, including the so-called “short form” that must be filled out by participants, would be required in the early summer, more than six weeks away.

In a normal auction, would-be purchasers jockey to purchase a good at the lowest price, and the seller attempts to bid up the value up.

In a reverse auction, would-be sellers jockey to obtain funds (from the FCC) to offer broadband service at the highest price they can get. In this case, the purchaser is the federal government, and it wants to “bid” the value down, so that higher-capacity broadband will reach more places at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.

The FCC also promoted an interactive map of preliminary eligible areas based on its definition of unserved, which is when all locations within a given census block lack a download speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

Prior to the FCC webinar on Tuesday, The CommLaw Group and CostQuest Associates also hosted a webinar on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“Is the RDOF a big deal? To ask the question is to answer it,” telecommunications attorney Drew Clark said on the webinar. Clark is also Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast.

See Drew Clark’s article on the FCC auction, “Why the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is So Significant, and How to Succeed in Applying For RDOF,” published in Broadband Breakfast on Monday.

Phase I of the fund plans to auction $16 billion, over 10 years, to the unserved census blocks. An additional $4.4 billion is expected to be auctioned off at a later date in a Phase II auction.

This later phase will also include funds going to census blocks that are considered underserved.

Think of these additional “underserved” blocks as semi-served, because the FCC’s current Form 477 broadband mapping tool counts homes as “served” when they reside in a census block in which only one person is able to obtain service.

The FCC deployed a reverse auction format for the Connect America Fund Phase II auction in 2018.

Its success encouraged the FCC to use it again, this time with much higher stakes. Only $1.48 billion, over 10 years, was made available in CAF II. That is less than 10 times the amount being made available in RDOF, Phase I.

Participants can boost their chances of winning through a system of weights that reward builders who offer faster speeds.

Speaking in the CommLaw Group and CostQuest Associates webinar, Clark, attorney Robert Jackson, and CostQuest Vice President Mike Wilson advised participants to think of these weights as a drag that would slow down a proposed bid.

The faster the speed that an ISP can offer, the less weight will burden it in the bidding process.

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Native Americans Need Control Over Mapping Data, Conference Hears

Indigenous connectivity advocates said Native Americans should have control over their mapping data.

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Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University.

October 18, 2021––Advocates for greater broadband access in Native American lands discussed the need for greater control over broadband mapping to address broadband challenges amongst Native American populations.

Traci Morris and H. Rose Trostle from the American Indian Policy Institute said Wednesday at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit that there is now an intense focus on “broadband inequality and digital equity” as it relates to Tribal nations.

Morris and Trostle’s indigenous-led office at Arizona State University analyzes policy recommendations on key issues in Indian country, and they’re working on a paper that would overview Indian country in the U.S., federal broadband maps, and a consideration of indigenous “data sovereignty”­­––the argument that native lands should have more control over their data mapping to improve broadband mapping in tribal lands.

The mapping undertaking is particularly important to Trostle. “Indigenous peoples have a long tradition of mapping,” they said. “This needs to be recognized when considering how we can improve modern maps of key services, including electricity, water, and broadband.”

Trostle underscored the gap in adequate broadband mapping between tribal lands and the rest of the United States. “Indian country is the canary in the coal mine of broadband mapping,” Trostle said. “Federal data has problems for not just tribal lands, but also non-tribal rural and urban areas.” In Trostle’s view, part of the problem is “a lack of people that understand broadband or tribal lands.” Trostle said their office’s study on the inadequacy of broadband mapping on tribal lands would be available “within the next year.”

The Indigenous Connectivity Summit also featured a discussion about indigenous data sovereignty.

Jeff Doctor, impact strategist at Animikii Indigenous Tech, argued that the native American individual’s connection with their larger collective cultural group makes their data more personal in nature and should be better protected.

In tribal lands, political belonging has an influence on their community and culture and “has a part in how we think of collective rights,” he said. Doctor described how native American lands have been disadvantaged by the U.S. government.

“When you look at how colonialism operates, it’s very extractive” he said. He urged summit attendees to think about how to build rights-based technology. He suggested taking a community-centralized approach to data rights and molding tech data policy around universal human rights.

The fifth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit held virtual sessions from October 12 to October 15, 2021. They met each year to discuss how Tribal nations can have affordable, quality, and sustainable internet access, and talk about how connectivity supports social and economic development.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Service Providers Should Partner with Organizations to Comprehend Broadband Data

For companies to have successful builds, they need to ensure they know how to interpret their data.

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Left to right: Paul Sulisz, Gerry Lawlor, and Brian Medford.

HOUSTON, October 4, 2021 — Broadband service providers should work with organizations to understand their own broadband data sets and maps, according to experts.

Speaking at the Broadband Communities Summit last week, Biarri Networks CEO Paul Sulisz explained that even if someone has data, that does not mean that they will have the ability to act on it or follow through on their plans. Ensuring that data sets are interoperable is crucial, he said.

“It is important to understand and agree on how to aggregate data,” Sulisz said. “There are so many people that start on the journey [to build out broadband], go down the wrong path, and then need a rescue mission.”

Broadband experts agree that without the ability to integrate broadband data sets and maps, many broadband expansion efforts will hardly be able to get off the ground.

Sulisz noted that many of these wrong paths are chosen because people are working with data that is incomplete or that they do not understand, and that is why it is so important to work with organizations that are capable of parsing through and comprehending data.

“If [companies] do not do the planning up front with people who have a good track record—it is going to be tough,” Sulisz continued. “Talk to people who have a good track record—go do your homework.”

Gerry Lawlor, the CEO of Open5G, said it is important for those working on broadband projects to understand how to define demand and how to secure long-term investment to meet that demand. He said that often companies that just put their heads down and think that hard work will pull an effort through are the same companies that need to be rescued.

Both men emphasized the need for companies to be prepared for accelerated growth, explaining that once one neighborhood gets faster service, the neighbors will want it, and so on. They said that it is crucial for data logged in potentially disparate systems to communicate effectively to sustain scalable growth.

As it stands now, many companies are being left to their own devices until new Federal Communications Commission mapping data is released sometime next year, though these efforts have inspired less confidence in the wake of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – following the award process, several companies have had to reevaluate their builds since many of the supposedly unserved areas they bid on were already served.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts

Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity

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Photo courtesy Heartland Forward

September 21, 2021—Public-private partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity in regions that need help, state broadband officials said Tuesday.

Speaking at a “Connecting the Heartland Conference Series,” BroadbandOhio CEO Peter Voderberg highlighted the state’s focus on ensuring student broadband connectivity. He highlighted the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, for which more than 900 school districts have applied.

Funds could be allocated to subsidize the cost of internet for students without broadband, hotspot service plans, providing improved public Wi-Fi infrastructure, or otherwise improving existing connectivity, he said. Collaborative efforts between school districts and ISPs have been able to bring the overall cost of broadband down for consumers.

Voderberg also described a $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to bring internet to areas with connections slower that 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

This program would subsidize private efforts by compensating ISPs for the difference between the cost of the project and the price it would take to make the effort profitable for them.

Illinois’ early efforts at broadband progress

Matt Schmit, director of the Illinois Broadband Office, pointed to “the three legs of the stool” for broadband expansion: Access, adoption, and utilization.

Illinois’ plans and programs were designed with this three-pronged approach in mind, he said, crediting Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for establishing programs prioritizing broadband two years before the rest of the country is now doing.

Two key aspects of Illinois’ efforts are technology neutrality and a focus on scalability. “[We believe in focusing on] investing in an area and making sure that we have the kind of investment, service, and infrastructure that is going to serve [a] community well into the years ahead.”

In terms of prioritizing which communities and regions get service, Illinois considers any area with services less than 25 x 3 Mbps to be unserved, much like the federal government’s current broadband standard.

However, unlike the federal government, Illinois also has a category for what it considers to be underserved, which is any area below 100 x 20 mpbs. He called the state’s approach a compromise between advocates that have called for a broadband standard of 100 x 100 Mbps or even 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). On the other hand, he said, are voices that argue against “future-proof” technologies, saying that gigabit speeds are gratuitous.

The most challenging aspect of providing service, however, is simply identifying which areas are served, underserved, or lacking coverage completely, he said.

“We don’t necessarily trust the maps that are out there—even our own,” he said, adding that mapping “is the start of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.”

It will only be through conversations with applicants, communities, and providers that enough data is collected to sufficiently serve the state, “We are investing in a community or investing in an area for the long term,” Schmit continued, “Because what we’re going to invest in is fully scalable for the needs, not only today, but for tomorrow.”

The event was hosted by National Urban League, agribusiness Land O’Lakes, Inc., and Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on rural economic development.

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