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Broadband Mapping & Data

In One of Last Acts as FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai Tries to Fix Broadband Maps

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Photo of Ajit Pai at the FCC Chairman's Dinner in December 2019 by Drew Clark

January 20, 2021 – In one of his last official acts before departing the Federal Communications Commission and stepping down as its chairman on Wednesday, Ajit Pai on Tuesday secured a unanimous vote from the agency for new rules implementing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

The new rules, which will apparently finalize the new broadband mapping rules for the agency, are meant to improve data collection and broadband deployment information for the FCC’s work to close the digital divide.

In a press release, the agency said it was seeking to clarify rules governing fixed and mobile broadband internet access service providers in reporting their availability and coverage data.

Additionally, speed and latency information for fixed technologies are also required to be reported and whether broadband services are offered to residential or business customers. “The Commission’s top priority is to make sure that every American has high-speed Internet access . . . we need to know exactly where broadband is and isn’t available,” Pai said in a statement.

The FCC order allows providers to address issues with fixed and mobile data map coverage. Mobile providers will need to submit a heat map showing signal levels from each active cell site for each fixed wireless, 5G or LTE propagation map.

Mapping broadband in the U.S. has been a significant challenge. Many people are unaware of broadband in general, and national funding towards mapping and understanding it lags behind other demanding budget allocations. The FCC also moved to exclude schools, libraries, and healthcare providers from the new data collection rules, blocking information about community anchor institution connectivity.

This upset the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, which said, “while the SHLB Coalition firmly supports the need to improve our nation’s flawed broadband maps, we are disheartened by the FCC’s decision to exclude schools, healthcare providers, and other anchor institutions from this mapping effort,” said the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The Commission has lost sight of the bigger picture imperative to map the full scope of broadband availability across the U.S.”

Additionally, American broadband mapping resources are scattered and disorganized. The National Broadband Plan of 2010 called for all anchor institutions to have gigabit broadband capacity by the year 2020.

And the National Broadband Map once offered everyday consumers and internet users to see fiber, cable, DSL, and wireless service provider areas but has become stale data as federal funding for it ended in 2015.

Awaiting federal actions, states have taken broadband mapping into own hands

Despite challenges with federal funding and attention to broadband issues, states like California have taken the matter into their own hands.

For example, in 2010, California lawmakers established the California Broadband Council. It was created to help state agencies improve broadband access to residents. The California Emerging Technology Fund, a quasi-governmental nonprofit founded in 2005, is an active member of the council. The fund initially received $60 million that funded grants to improve digital literacy, educate local leaders, and support technology adoption in communities across the state.

In August 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order No. 73-20, tasking state agencies to communicate with private sector companies to understand and predict current and future demand for broadband. The pressure to follow through on it comes from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The order demonstrates California’s desire to “better allocate resources and manage policies and programs” supporting broadband development. It also directed the CBC to create a new State Broadband Action Plan that must be reviewed annually.

The California order also set a minimum broadband speed goal of 100 Megabits per second (bps download speed for state agencies within Newsom’s control, with a purpose to guide infrastructure investments that would benefit residents.

That same month, the California Department of Education announced a special discounted service by T-Mobile and “special pricing” from Apple on its iPad + cellular devices, made available on top of its education volume pricing.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Ookla Fourth Quarter Report Puts T-Mobile as Fastest, Most Consistent Wireless Provider

T-Mobile ranks fastest mobile provider, improving on third quarter performance.

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T-Mobile president Mike Sievert

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2022 — Metrics company Ookla reported Tuesday that speed test data from the fourth quarter of last year show that T-Mobile was the fastest and most consistent mobile operator, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is the top device in terms of popularity and download speeds, and Google is the top manufacturer when it comes to download and upload speeds.

The latest report, for the months of October, November and December, showed T-Mobile’s median download speed was 90.65 Megabits per second, while runner-up AT&T had a median download speed of 49.25 Mbps and Verizon came in at 44.67 Mbps. The District of Columbia had the fastest median mobile download speeds in the United States with 100.38 Mbps, with T-Mobile being the fastest mobile provider in 42 states.

T-Mobile also had a significant jump in terms of 5G performance, said the Tuesday report. In the third quarter, T-Mobile’s median 5G download speed was 135.27 Mbps, while Tuesday’s report shows their median 5G download speed was 187.12. Verizon came second with a median speed of 78.2 Mbps and AT&T was third with a median speed of 68.82 Mbps.

In the United States, the fastest popular device manufacturer was Google. Google’s median download speed was 60.82 Mbps, Samsung’s was 52.80, and Apple’s was 52.76.

However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max was the most popular and fastest device overall, with a median download speed of 90.58 Mbps and the iPhone 13 Pro following closely behind at 89.61 Mbps.

In the report, only Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were mentioned as internet providers, and Apple, Google, and Samsung were the only device manufacturers included.

Each month, Ookla collects data from Speedtest users to report the internet speed at their location, and the data from those tests are used to generate their quarterly reports.

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Broadband Mapping

NTIA National Broadband Availability Map Expands to New States and Territories

Nevada, Louisiana, American Samoa and Puerto Rico will join.

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WASHINGTON, December 29, 2021 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday it will expand its National Broadband Availability Map to include Nevada, Louisiana, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

The NBAM, which now includes 38 states and two U.S. territories, is a geographic information system platform that allows for visualization and analysis of federal, state and commercially available data on broadband availability.

It is designed to better inform administrators’ broadband projects and funding decisions in their states.

Additionally, it includes five federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

In June, the NTIA also released to the public a digital map that includes key indicators of broadband needs across the U.S. This “Indicators of Broadband Need” tool “is the first interactive, public map designed to bring multiple third-party data sources together to help” public understanding of the digital divide and broadband affordability issues, the NTIA said.

The map shows overall great need for broadband access in the rural western U.S. compared to areas of the country such as the northeast and many parts of the Midwest.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Broadband Experts Agree on Multiple Datasets, Disagree on Level of Granularity for Maps

Two broadband experts on a Broadband Breakfast live event discussed data collection and specificity of mapping.

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Drew Clark (top-left), Scott Wallsten (top-right), Jim Stegeman (bottom-left), Bill Price (bottom-right) from live event December 22.

WASHINGTON, December 27, 2021 – Some experts are concerned that there is an overemphasis on the granularity of maps needed to rollout broadband in the country.

“I do not believe that trying to map every structure in the U.S. is the way to go,” said Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, during a Broadband Live Online event on December 22.

“Broadband maps cannot actually be fixed once and for all,” Wallsten said. “The information is always changing and the sorts of things we want to know are also changing.”

Several federal departments and agencies have broadband mapping tools, with the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration working on improving the accuracy and the specificity of their maps.

Wallsten recommended that data commissioners make very clear what questions are being asked and draw data from several datasets.

Wallsten argued that if the only question at hand is an attempt to determine the general trends of broadband adoption, existing FCC maps are likely already sufficient. “You can learn a lot more from data that is already available than most people realize.”

If the question relates to which specific regions and areas need investment, then more data is needed.

“We learn more by combining data in different ways,” he said. “I do not think we are doing enough of that.” Wallsten said that to get a fuller picture and understand trends and needs, stakeholders need to draw from many different sources.

“Do not expect any dataset – or any combination of data sets – to have all the answers,” Wallsten said. “We do not want to create a situation where we tell governments there is one master dataset.”

President of CostQuest Associates Jim Stegeman echo Wallsten’s statements on using multiple different datasets “to really zero in on the issues.”

But he dissented slightly from Wallsten on granularity. Stegeman stated that CostQuest had a proof of concept demonstrating address level service reporting to provide data on a location basis rather than the broader census block basis and the “one served, all served” mentality that the FCC maps have historically been dependent on.

According to CostQuest’s proof of concept, Stegeman said that future maps could have access to the “location of every broadband serviceable point in the country – the latitude and longitude of the building – to where we believe broadband service needs to be delivered.”

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the December 22, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021, 12 Noon ET — When Will the Broadband Maps Get Fixed?

Now that the Infrastructure Investment Act of 2021 has been passed, states can expect to see the $65 billion for broadband infrastructure dripped out over the coming years. But to effectively allocate their resources, states must understand the full picture and be able to discern underserved communities from served communities and identify those communities that are completely unserved. During this event, we will discuss the current state of broadband mapping across the country and what needs to be done to improve it and ensure that this opportunity for historic infrastructure funding is not squandered.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Scott Wallsten, President, Technology Policy Institute
  • James Stegeman, President/CEO, CostQuest Associates
  • Bill Price, Vice President, Government Solutions, LightBox
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute and also a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. He is an economist with expertise in industrial organization and public policy, and his research focuses on competition, regulation, telecommunications, the economics of digitization, and technology policy. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

James Stegeman, as President/CEO of CostQuest Associates, has been a major force behind the development of the latest generation economic cost models used by cable, telco, tower and wireless companies and state and government agencies in support of broadband deployment analysis. He led the design, coding and implementation of the Broadband Analysis Model (“BAM”) that was used by the FCC to develop and support the economic findings in the National Broadband Plan. He led the design, coding and implementation of the Connect America Cost Model (“CAM”, “CACM”, “A-CAM”) that is being used by the FCC to disburse more than $3 billion annually to fund broadband deployment and to set the reserve price in the RDOF and CAF II auctions. And most recently, he is leading the internal development of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, which was awarded to CostQuest by the FCC.  This national fabric will provide the underlying locational dataset for the upcoming FCC Broadband Data Collection effort and resulting national broadband map.

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.

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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