Without good information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the federal government is essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to determining how to best target the allocation of resources for underserved and unserved communities.
Even private sector investments are less efficient because of the lack of good data about broadband availability and pricing. That’s why the second major section of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, aims to address the nebulous nature of broadband data at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In this third installment of our series on the AAIA, we explore the ”Title II – Broadband Transparency” section of the Act, which requires the FCC to adopt rules to gather accurate and up-to-date information from ISPs about broadband service plan prices and subscription rates. It also requires the FCC to collect data that will allow the federal government to assess the resiliency of the nation’s broadband network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.
Better Data is Needed
Anyone who closely follows FCC news is already familiar with the problems associated with the agency’s broadband coverage maps, which most experts agree overstate actual broadband coverage. Though recent studies indicate there may be as many as 41 million people who lack access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum speed of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the FCC claims that number is closer to 18 million. It’s a big discrepancy with big dollar implications, as the coverage maps are the basis upon which agencies and states make major funding decisions.
The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here, with one glaring example being that it allows ISPs to claim an entire census block as being served even if only one residence in that block could have access to service.
Although the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act was signed into law in March of this year to get more granular data and improve transparency, the GOP-led FCC has yet to deliver.
Immediately after the DATA Act was signed into law, outgoing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that because Congress didn’t appropriate any related funds, the FCC would be unable to implement the Act. The FCC has enough control over its internal funds that if Chairman Pai had wanted accurate maps, the agency would have created them.
The “Broadband Transparency” portion of the AAIA seeks to remedy the situation by appropriating $24 million to the FCC to get the job done and goes further than what is required under the DATA Act by requiring the FCC to gather information on ISP pricing, which includes “any additional taxes and fees.” It also requires the FCC to revise the rules, if necessary, to “verify the accuracy of data submitted.”
Beyond the detailed information on broadband coverage and pricing, the bill also requires the FCC to collect “data necessary to assess the resiliency of the broadband Internet access service network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency,” though it doesn’t say exactly how or what data should be gathered.
Distribution and Protection of Data
Of course, it’s one thing to require the FCC to collect this data. But the question of who has access to that data goes to the heart of transparency. In Section 2003, the bill addresses that, requiring the FCC to make the data available to federal agencies; state agencies such as broadband offices and public utility commissions; local governments; and individuals and organizations “conducting research for noncommercial purposes or public interest purposes.”
The last part of Section 2003 directs the FCC to not share the data unless “the Commission has determined that the receiving entity or individual has the capability and intent to protect any personally identifiable information contained in the data.”
Lastly, under Section 2005, the bill requires the FCC to issue rules “to promote and incentivize widespread adoption of the broadband consumer labels” the FCC established in 2016 and that broadband consumer labels should be provided in “a simple-to-understand format describing the key factors consumers need to know when considering broadband service, including: price, data allowances, speeds, and management practices.”
Finally, the bill would require the FCC to hold a series of public hearings to “assess how consumers currently evaluate [I]nternet service plans and whether existing disclosures are available, effective, and sufficient.”
An essential part of getting everyone online
Although the “Broadband Transparency” section of the bill may not get the media focus that other big ticket items in the bill will get, Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel for Free Press Action, sums up its significance succinctly:
While the deployment and financing strategies will understandably draw attention in an infrastructure bill, its digital equity, affordability and pricing transparency provisions are just as essential or more so for getting everyone online.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series on “Title III – Broadband Access.”
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Sean Gonsalves, a senior reporter, editor and researcher for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. Originally published on MuniNetworks.org, the piece is part of a collaborative reporting effort between Broadband Breakfast and the Community Broadband Networks program at ILSR.
FCC Commissioning Mobile Wireless and Fixed Broadband Data for Better Mapping
The agency released a statement of objectives earlier this month.
WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission this month released a statement of objectives to get mobile wireless and fixed broadband performance data for at least the next year.
The November 2 document is intended to aggregate mobile wireless broadband and fixed broadband performance data that will “support the Commission’s analysis of broadband performance and availability in several Commission reports, including its statutorily-required annual Broadband Deployment Report and its biennial Communications Marketplace Report (CMR),” the document said.
The tentative schedule for data collection will be from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022, with an option to extend for another three years beyond that, to December 2025.
The data will include consumer-initiated mobile wireless speed tests from Android and iOS devices and other operating systems, like Windows on desktop, for fixed internet connections. It should include rural and non-rural markets and have data dating back to at least January 2021. The data would also be aggregated based on technology and provider, domestic city-level, and international comparisons.
Respondents are being asked to submit their capabilities of collecting this test data and provide a response to the FCC by November 23.
One of the agency’s primary objectives is to get better mapping data to make better decisions on where to disburse federal funds and to avoid mistakes. The agency is currently going through a bit of a clean-up operation after the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’s reverse auction process awarded winning bidders with money to build in areas that already have adequate services. The defaulting bidders said in letters that they relied on the FCC’s Form 477 data, which supplied inaccurate information as to coverage. (The FCC’s Form 477 data, which relies on service provider information, has been mired by problems for years.)
On November 9, the FCC awarded a contract to broadband consulting firm Costquest Associates to collect data on the availability and quality of fixed broadband internet access across the country as part of the agency’s obligations under the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, which became law last year.
The law requires the agency to collect granular data on fixed and wireless broadband, create publicly available coverage maps, and create a common dataset of all locations where fixed broadband internet can be installed, called the “Fabric.” Costquest will need to provide this fabric dataset, which includes all structures – defined as households and buildings – in the 50 states and its territories and note whether internet access is, or should be, available.
Speaking at the Marconi Society Symposium last month, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency’s crowdsourcing mapping efforts is a valuable way to ensure the maps are as accurate as possible.
Broadband Breakfast Panel Emphasizes Need for Better Mapping to Maximize Infrastructure Bill Money
Funds made available by the infrastructure bill will not need solid maps to make spending efficient, experts agree.
WASHINGTON, November 11, 2021 – A critical step to maximizing the Congress-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is crafting innovative mapping to pinpoint areas of focus for the billions of dollars in money going to broadband projects, experts hosted by Broadband Breakfast said Wednesday.
Following more than a decade of inefficient attempts from the Federal Communications Commission to map broadband needs nationally and continued lagging of current FCC mapping projects, individual states — Georgia has been one standout that is taking that initiative head-on — may need to create their own maps to meet timelines for funding allocated by the new bill. That’s despite FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel saying recently that she’s optimistic that the agency is developing the best wireless maps in the country, as the agency reels from errors made in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said during a Tuesday press conference about the infrastructure bill that the department will be working closely with the FCC’s mapping data.
Once the bill is signed into law, there will be a six-month period in which National Telecommunications and Information Administration can disburse the $42 billion it will get for broadband infrastructure based on need found through mapping efforts, said Public Knowledge’s director of government affairs Greg Guice during Wednesday’s panel discussion.
Under the bipartisan infrastructure bill, each state will receive $100 million in addition to further funding that is allocated based on the number of households in need present in the state.
Per Guice, some of the most useful maps for figuring out where funding is necessary will come from overlaying data such as metrics on internet speed and demographic information that covers income and ethnicity distributions in localities. Demographic information is especially important for addressing issues such as digital redlining, the perpetuation of already existing inequities among marginalized groups through digital technologies.
Steps in the right direction for effective mapping
Still, despite agreement between all the panelists that past mapping practices hinder effective broadband funding disbursement, the panel also lauded recent efforts to improve mapping practices.
Guice commended an FCC request for proposal that seeks to create a “robust” maps in terms of the information it can provide. Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, expressed hope about the impacts that crowdsourcing efforts could have in creating accurate broadband maps.
Steve Pastorkovich, senior director of broadband funding and development for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative also hailed increased flexibility put in place for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund as helpful in mitigation of the problems that subpar mapping practices have created for fund disbursement.
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the November 10, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 12 Noon ET — Unpacking the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act
The passage of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act presents an unparalleled opportunity for advocates of Better Broadband, Better Lives. In this “breaking news” edition of Broadband Breakfast Live Online, officials from the broadband industry, including public interest advocates, will talk about the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, how they see the core provisions included within, and next steps for action in developing broadband projects.
Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:
- Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
- Gary Bolton, President and CEO, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA)
- Steve Pastorkovich, Senior Director, Broadband Funding & Development, NRTC
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
See House Passes Bipartisan Broadband Infrastructure Bill, But Without Reconciliation Measure, and Industry and Non-Profit Groups Offer Uniformly Positive Views of Broadband Bill’s Passage, Broadband Breakfast, November 6, 2021
Greg Guice is the Director of Public Knowledge’s Government Affairs team, where he focuses on outreach on the full complement of Public Knowledge’s issues and policy recommendations to promote broadband access and technological innovation. Greg has more than 20 years of experience working on legislative and regulatory issues affecting today’s technology market.
Gary Bolton serves as president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association — the largest trade association in the Americas dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. With more than three decades in the telecom industry, Bolton joined the Fiber Broadband Association as president and CEO in 2020 after serving on the association’s board as vice chairman, treasurer and vice chairs of public policy and marketing committees. Prior to taking the leadership role at the Fiber Broadband Association, he spent 11 years at ADTRAN serving as vice president of global marketing and government affairs.
Steve Pastorkovich is NRTC’s Senior Director, Broadband Funding & Development, and has advocated on behalf of rural broadband providers in the nation’s capital for over 20 years. He spearheaded NRTC’s funding initiatives, including work on the Rural Utilities Service’s ReConnect broadband loan and grant program, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction. Prior to NRTC, he spent 20 years working for rural telecommunications trade associations.
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.
- Statement of Gary Bolton of the Fiber Broadband Association.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
Native Americans Need Control Over Mapping Data, Conference Hears
Indigenous connectivity advocates said Native Americans should have control over their mapping data.
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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