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Broadband Mapping & Data

Verified Broadband Speeds Needed to Understand Impact of Coronavirus on Internet Networks, Panelists Say

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May 15, 2020 — Guests on Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online emphasized the need for increased broadband mapping efforts, and for including verified speeds, and prices, in a national dataset.

The live event was part of a weekly series on the impact of broadband the coronavirus, and which takes place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Wednesday’s event featured X-Lab Founder Sascha Meinrath, Measurement Lab Director Lai Yi Ohlsen and Ookla Chief Strategy Officer Chip Strange, and was hosted by Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

While speaking about the event’s designated topic, “Measuring and Monitoring the Health of Broadband Networks During the Coronavirus,” participants expressed concern about the current state of broadband networks as well as enthusiasm about the potential benefits that broadband could provide to underserved communities.

Participants also described the relative strengths and weaknesses of different methods of measuring internet speeds.

“[All methods] provide incredibly useful facets of an incredibly complicated network,” Meinrath said, “and as such, the more data we can get on our hands, the better for everyone involved.”

Meinrath went on to say that there was not merely one methodology that would provide the most applicable dataset, but rather a combination of methods.

“Only a fool would say, ‘This one piece of data is all I need to make an informed decision,’” he said. “If Jeff Bezos joins us on this call, on average, we’re all billionaires.”

When asked what broadband providers are not measuring but should in order to assess broadband coverage more accurately, Ohlsen said that openness was vital.

“What I do think is useful about the approach that M-Lab takes is to be open in all of the different methodologies that we use so that all researchers can see the calculation that’s getting them the number that we’re all referencing,” she said. “If there are other measurements that folks think would be useful to have in a public dataset, we are happy to have open-source experiments.”

When Clark asked Strange his thoughts on data that shows large gaps in broadband coverage across the country, Strange agreed that more data was needed but said that the problem was not unexpected.

“It does not surprise me at all that there are pockets of — and in some cases, more than pockets of — our country that do not have what I would call high broadband speeds,” he said.

In their closing remarks, panelists emphasized the importance of accurate broadband mapping and detailed solutions.

“We need much more in-depth, systematic, data collection, research, verification of information, et cetera, and I think the best people to do that are the scientific research community,” said Meinrath.

“And that would be in collaboration with everyone involved … but the idea that scientists should run the science behind investigating, identifying, documenting broadband speeds in the United States is weirdly radical, and shouldn’t be,” he said.

Follow upcoming Live Online events, see Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

Guests for this event:

  • Sascha Meinrath, Founder, X-Lab, and Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University
  • Lai Yi Ohlsen, Project Director, Measurement Lab, a collection of open internet performance data
  • Chip Strange, Chief Strategy Officer, Ookla, which is responsible for the Speedtest platform
  • Drew Clark (Moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist and moderator resources:

Follow upcoming Live Online events, see Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

Elijah Labby was a Reporter with Broadband Breakfast. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and now resides in Orlando, Florida. He studies political science at Seminole State College, and enjoys reading and writing fiction (but not for Broadband Breakfast).

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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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