When America built our railroads and highways, paper maps were updated continuously with feedback from the edge of the networks that provided regular status updates. When reports of obstacles were relayed (go through a mountain or around it, as an example) then strategists, managers, builders, policy-makers and locals could collaborate and adapt.
Today, we can use cloud-based software to ingest a full stack of geographic, demographic and relevant network inputs (from both the physical and logical layers of the network), so that we have a real-time view of our progress towards closing the digital divide once and for all.
In order for this to happen, we must flip the mapping model on its head so that we devote resources to mapping that directly support building the networks of the future to fill the gaps of today.
Prior to the pandemic there was broad agreement in the U.S. that the nation’s approach to broadband mapping was broken. The DATA Act should go a long way in dealing with much of the brokenness but, timing-wise, it couldn’t fully seize on the now-universal realizations of extreme rural broadband deficiencies laid bare by the pandemic.
The crisis created by COVID provides a call to action for a practical solution for the digital divide that provides real-time data insights. This need not be complicated.
Communities and states across the U.S. deserve broadband mapping that generates real-time broadband intelligence that not only informs funding decisions but also tracks network construction with full transparency and accountability.
This approach would create the proverbial triple win: good for citizens when the prospect of better connectivity is demystified; good for granting agencies who need a contextual “dashboard” view of funding applications, projects in-process and lit networks resulting from their funding; and good for internet service providers who increasingly need a simpler way to interface with and report to grantors and the public.
Consistent with South Carolina Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn’s H.R. 7302 – the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act – such an approach would enable a “central database to track the construction and use of and access to any broadband service infrastructure built using any Federal support.”
Federal and state government entities responsible for investing public broadband dollars must be able to follow the money in order to optimize for the greatest impact possible. As a benefit for companies building networks with public funds, they should receive the proper additional incentives for investing in the tools that will support a higher level of real-time status tracking of their network expansion.
Pandemic has heightened the urgency to build high-speed symmetrical connections
The urgency of the pandemic should call us to stop obsessing over the soft edges of the “served/unserved” parts of our maps. Choose a reasonably future-proofed threshold (designate a minimum 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) symmetrical connection, for instance) and declare anything beyond those bounds as unserved. Then we can focus public funding towards providers willing to build out services within the gap areas and who will provide the ability for the public to track the status of their progress
For providers, the payoff on customer acquisition will more than sufficiently offset any competitive risk of oversharing, particularly when their network construction costs to build out hard-to-reach areas are being offset with subsidies. A fraction of provided public funding can support the ISPs adoption of a standard network funding proposal and tracking schema which can be integrated into an existing system or embraced as a new innovation in planning, designing and building a network.
By carving out funding for network builders to invest in more innovative tools for planning, designing, building and operating their networks, public funding will also create an impetus for new service provider entrants. It will speed up the pace of deployment and it will create an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability about what is being built with public dollars.
Such an approach will create greater visibility into the impact of programs, policies and funding of new broadband network construction and will provide a more nimble environment for making meaningful adjustments that will help us to more efficiently bridge the gaps.
Brian Mefford is Vice President of Broadband Strategy and Head of the Digital Divide Practice at Vetro, Inc. Formerly he founded Connected Nation and served most recently as the head of innovation and entrepreneurship for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program
The data will go toward improved maps, which the FCC chair said will be available by the fall.
WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday officially opened its new system to collect broadband service information from over 2500 broadband providers.
The Broadband Data Collection “marks the beginning of [the FCC’s] window to collect location-by-location data from providers that we will use to build the map,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.
Broadband providers will be required to provide availability claims and supporting data. Supporting data will include sections such as “propagation modeling information” and “link budget information.” The deadline to submit is September 1.
Rosenworcel said the agency has established consistent parameters that require broadband providers to submit data using geocoded locations that will “allow [the FCC] to create a highly precise picture of fixed broadband deployment, unlike previous data collections, which focused on census blocks, giving us inaccurate, incomplete maps.”
With this information, the FCC will build a common dataset of locations in the United States where fixed broadband service can be installed, called the “fabric.” Rosenworcel said that this fabric will serve as a “foundation upon which all fixed broadband availability data will be reported and overlaid in our new broadband availability maps.”
Following the completion of the maps, government entities and internet service providers will be given a challenge window where availability claims may be challenged based on submitted data.
Rosenworcel previously said that the improved broadband maps will be available by the fall.
States expect to be busy fact-checking these claims as they are released, said panelists at Broadband Breakfast Live Online Event Wednesday. States will be involved in individual challenging processes and will be expected to provide information on availability through individual speed testing.
States want to get these maps right because they serve as a broadband investment decision making tool, said Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox, a data platform that is helping states build broadband maps. That means many states are committed to obtaining accurate local coverage data to utilize federal and state funding.
Wednesday, June 29, 2022, 12 Noon ET –Broadband Mapping and Data
Now that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Notice of Funding Opportunity has been released, attention turns to a core activity that must take place before broadband infrastructure funds are distributed: The Federal Communications Commission’s updated broadband maps. Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as implemented by the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, these address-level maps from the FCC will determine the allocation of funds among states and serve as a key source of truth. Our panelists will also consider the role of state-level maps, the NTIA challenge process and other topics. Join Broadband Breakfast as we return to one of the subjects that we know best: Broadband data and mapping.
- Bill Price, Vice President, Government Solutions, LightBox
- Dustin Loup, Program Manager, Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition
- Ryan Guthrie, Vice President of Solutions Engineering at ATS
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
- Broadband Breakfast on April 20, 2022 — Broadband Mapping and Data: In-Home Connections
- Broadband Breakfast on February 2, 2022 — Groundhog Day Special on Broadband Mapping
- Broadband Breakfast on December 22, 2021 — When Will the Broadband Maps Get Fixed?
- Ask Me Anything! with Lai Yi Ohlsen and Dustin Loup on June 17, 2022
Bill Price, Vice President of Government Solutions, is responsible for LightBox broadband data and mapping solutions for government. Bill has more than 40 years in telecommunications and technology services development and operations. His track record includes delivering the Georgia statewide location level broadband map, the first fiber metropolitan area network in the U.S., and launching BellSouth’s internet service. LightBox combines proven, leading GIS and big data technology to transform how decisions are made in broadband infrastructure planning and investment.
Dustin Loup is an expert on internet governance and policy and program manager for the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition. Much of his work centers on improving digital inclusion and establishing transparent, open-source, and openly verifiable mapping methodologies and standards.
Ryan Guthrie is VP of Solutions Engineering at Advanced Technologies & Services. He started with ATS in 2006 and has been involved in all aspects of the business from sales and marketing through solution design and implementation. Ryan also manages regulatory solutions for ATS and has been deeply involved with the federally funded broadband projects by assisting ISPs with their performance measures testing compliance.
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.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say
- FiberLight Buy, T-Mobile Shuts Down Older Networks, AT&T and Dish Lead US O-RAN Alliance
- FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program
- FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’
- States Must Ease Zoning, Permit Regulations for Broadband Buildouts
- Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia
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