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Broadband Mapping

Senate Committee Simultaneously Praises Broadband Providers and Scorns Broadband Maps

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Screenshot of Senate hearing

May 13, 2020 — “Among the 10 largest countries in world, the U.S. is the only nation that reported no substantial degradation last month in terms of speed,” said US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter at a Senate hearing on “The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic” Wednesday.

The assertion, which Broadband Breakfast was not able to verify, piqued the interest of many of the gathered senators, some of whom attended via videoconference.

Spalter credited US Telecom member companies for working hard. He said the organization Smart Cities helped convert 18 different convention centers around the country into emergency hospitals for COVID-19 victims.

Spalter also touted member company Verizon’s $55 million donation to COVID-19 related causes and member company Century Link’s help in converting the battleship USS Mercy into a floating hospital.

Spalter recalled asking Smart City board member Marty Ruben why he continued to help convert convention centers into hospitals.

“There was never any question,” Ruben responded, according to the US Telecom CEO. “These are our communities.”

When witnesses brought up the unexpected challenges that internet service providers face in ensuring enough speed for uploads due to heavy use of symmetrical data-munchers like Zoom, Senate Committee Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., cut them off to get a direct answer.

“Are we doing well on upload?” he asked.

“That’s the beauty of fiber,” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield replied, referring to fiber optic cables’ high-speed and symmetrical properties.

Spalter also named a few key ingredients in the American economic recipe that were effective in improving broadband speeds: network investment, a regulatory light touch and a forward-looking perspective.

Similarly, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., identified Europe’s heavy-handed approach as being the reason why European countries are reporting slower than average broadband speeds.

Broadband mapping also comes in for criticism at the hearing

But that didn’t stop the committee from beating everyone’s favorite dead horse: The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband maps.

Senators were very conscious of the fact that not all broadband data can be trusted due to unreliable maps.

Large portions of rural America were left out of the FCC’s official broadband map that both industry and government rely on to make future decisions, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“It actually blows my mind,” he added.

Tester was both encouraging of proactive broadband buildout efforts and skeptical that buildout money would be used efficiently, given the map’s troubled past, worrying that the FCC might be acting recklessly by “building out because [it] can’t get the information on maps correct.”

Bloomfield responded that since the FCC’s initiatives to encourage buildouts initially grant funds to the most underserved, it is actually “a wise course of action.”

Steven Berry, the CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, agreed. “I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he assured the testy senator.

Wicker agreed with the witnesses’ reasoning but waved off their relatively lax attitudes, saying that the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund auction has to happen no later than October.

The senators’ concern with broadband mapping underscored their recognition of the importance of universal broadband in America.

“We need high speed internet,” Tester said. “Otherwise we don’t have health care at a distance, we don’t have tele-education.”

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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Broadband Mapping

CostQuest to Supply FCC Broadband Map After Watchdog Denies Contract Appeal

The Government Accountability Office rejected LightBox’s bid to protest CostQuest’s award to build the map.

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Screenshot of Costquest President Jim Stegeman from December 2020

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2022 – The Government Accountability Office last Thursday denied an appeal by real estate mapping company LightBox that challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s selection of CostQuest Associates to construct the agency’s enhanced broadband map.

In a press release Wednesday, CostQuest, a mapping data provider, announced the decision by the watchdog, stating that though the appeal delayed its “contract performance” by three months, the company is on track and expected to deliver the first version of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric to the FCC “later this year.”

The GAO’s decision came just two days after the FCC officially set a date for June to begin collecting internet service provider data for the better map. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo previously said that her communications with the agency yielded a possible summertime release of the map.

The FCC awarded the contract to CostQuest in November as part of its obligation under the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technology Availability Act, which became law in 2020.

The creation of a national fabric – or aggregation of data into a single model for the country – is a critical part of bridging the digital divide and integral for the disbursal of billions in federal funds from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, $42.5 billion of which is managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Broadband mapping has been widely discussed in recent years and the FCC has acknowledged that its efforts on this front have been insufficient. The FCC’s current maps only reflect broadband service on the census block level, meaning that if a single address in a census block has access to broadband, the entire census block is considered to have access to broadband. The agency has also begun collecting crowdsourced data.

The services outlined by CostQuest show a higher level of granularity, being able to distinguish between specific addresses, their broadband speeds and quality, and regional marketing trends. In addition to being able to aggregate this address specific data, CostQuest will be able to overlay and compare it with cost, funding, and technology assessments.

States taking initiative on mapping

Though some states were already in the process of their own respective mapping efforts, many will still be largely dependent on federal maps to apply for funding and ultimately deploy broadband infrastructure to underserved and unserved Americans.

“States will have direct access to the location data in the BSLF to support the collective effort of building a better national map,” Jim Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest, said in a press release Wednesday, adding it will be available to service providers as well.

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Broadband Mapping

Crowd-Sourced Broadband Maps Often More Useful Than Government Efforts, Panel Says

Community broadband data can be collected by harnessing the power of the individual.

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WASHINGTON, February 20, 2022 – Broadband maps created using crowd-sourced data can often be more useful in planning internet access than mapping efforts shepherded by state governments and higher ups, a panel of broadband data experts said.

The experts emphasized that incentives for states and grant deployment alone do not lead to successful broadband deployment and that stakeholder and community engagement are essential to calculated expansion plans.

The panel was convened earlier this month as part of the Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast series, aiming to create dialogue on how to improve broadband mapping practices.

As opposed to some statewide efforts at broadband mapping that are mandated by state law, cofounder of consulting firm Breaking Point Solutions Glenn Fishbine spoke of community-based proposals in which individuals who are very tapped into the area where they live collect broadband data from those they know and submit it to the government. His GEO Software is distributed by GEO Partners.

Fishbine has observed areas where this has produced better mapping results than bureaucratic top-down governmental approaches to mapping.

Such methods are often much faster than states waiting for federal assistance in mapping.

Similarly, collecting data on a location basis rather than looking just at census blocks is essential to mapping, particularly for looking at overbuilding such as for disbursement of American Rescue Plan Act funds as University of Georgia Institute of Government Associate Director Eric McRae discussed.

Fishbine highlighted that different mapping approaches like this are unique to what data is trying to be collected – digital inequity studies may require one approach while looking at unserved areas and infrastructure in need of upgrades may require different approaches.

He also highlighted the need for plans to be cost-effective, demonstrating software he has worked on that allows for determination of what infrastructure projects are most likely to win grants based on prescribed grant criteria.

Picking which projects to pursue funding for in this manner is essential due to the fact that grant writers’ labor is a finite resource and they cannot apply to fund every single proposed project.

In the discussion, Kathryn de Wit of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative advocated for state broadband official engagement during infrastructure rollout. That will ensure better deployment opportunities in states beyond what federal grants alone will do.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Better Broadband Mapping, Part 1

This Broadband Breakfast Live Online event will kick off a series about how we can get better broadband mapping and data for making the most of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act funds. We’ll speak with policy-makers, map-makers, state officials and those building out broadband relying on broadband maps.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Kathryn de Wit, Project Director, The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Eric McRae, Associate Director, University of Georgia Institute of Government
  • Glenn Fishbine, Co-founder, Breaking Point Solutions, LLC
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Kathryn de Wit directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative, which works to accelerate efforts to connect millions of Americans to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. Before joining Pew, de Wit was an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, where she focused on broadband deployment, organizational management, and public affairs. De Wit holds bachelor’s degrees in communications and sociology from Penn State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

Eric McRae is responsible for the Institute of Government’s Office of Information Technology Outreach Services (ITOS), which helps state and local governments incorporate into their operations a wide array of geographic information systems (GIS) technology, including parcel mapping, digitizing paper maps, and integrating transportation/addressing systems. He has managed multiple local, state, national, and international GIS projects and initiatives and has served on and chaired numerous GIS and information technology boards and committees, including the National States Geographic Information Council. Eric was integral in the development of the state of Georgia Broadband Map.

Glenn Fishbine has been involved with startup technologies for his entire career resulting in over a dozen U.S. patents. In 2011 he co-founded Breaking Point Solutions, LLC, a technology development company which later developed the GEO software for broadband mapping used in over a dozen states and rapid design studies performed for over 200 clients. The GEO Software is distributed by GEO Partners, LLC.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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