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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.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

States are Making Their Own Broadband Maps to Challenge the FCC’s Data

With FCC maps promised soon, some states are preparing to possibly challenge them by making their own.

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Photo of United States flags on the Avenue of Flags at Mount Rushmore from the National Park Service

WASHINGTON, August 8, 2022 – Some states are preparing their own broadband availability maps in preparation to challenge any deficiencies in the Federal Communications Commission’s own maps, according to state officials Broadband Breakfast spoke to, which could mean the difference between more or less funding.

The FCC’s new map, which is expected by this fall and will help federal programs deliver billions in funding to underserved and unserved areas, will include a challenge process where broadband providers, and communities will be able to challenge broadband availability claims by submitting evidence to the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection system.

Many states are preparing for this challenge process now by establishing their own state broadband maps, according to people this publication spoke to. William Price of location data and service company LightBox said that “states that have invested in developing their own fabric and their own ISP data collection for those locations will be in a position to pose a credible challenge [to the FCC’s maps].”

FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program

If states have not developed their own location level mapping, they will have no basis to evaluate if federal funding allocations are appropriate and no way to advocate for additional funds, said Price, whose LightBox has agreements with some states to develop their own maps. (LightBox is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.)

B.J. Tanksley of Missouri’s Office of Broadband Development said in an interview that the state is “hopeful that its maps will be useful in challenging the FCC’s maps… we believe our maps will allow us to challenge, when necessary, to improve the accuracy for Missouri.”

Tanksley added that there are sure to be many states looking to strengthen their maps prior to the FCC process, which will lead to a demand in this area.

Indeed, Utah is following the trend. Rebecca Dilg of the Utah Broadband Center told Broadband Breakfast that state maps are necessary to compare to FCC maps. Dilg expects that Utah’s state map will prove useful to challenge location-level coverage claims in the cases of multi-dwelling buildings where federal maps would claim a location is served without considering multi-tenant living situations.

Utah’s Broadband Maps Are Ready for Federal Funding, Broadband Director Says

Preparing for the challenge process is an “important investment of time,” Dilg said.

Florida, which has developed a broadband internet speed test to populate its map, said in a statement to Broadband Breakfast that any location level map that Florida may create should supplement the yet-to-be released FCC maps.

The road to better maps

Previous broadband availability maps provided by the FCC faced longstanding criticism from industry stakeholders, members of Congress, and the FCC itself because of its overreliance on the Form 477 method, which relied largely on data from internet service providers.

Those maps relied on data on speed tests, surveys, and data at the census block level, which meant an entire block was considered covered if just one address within that block received adequate connectivity.

In order to improve the mapping situation and ensure that the $42.5 billion in new funds from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act funds are allocated to areas in need, Congress passed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act in 2020.

Drew Clark: Broadband Maps Are a Mess, So Now Let’s Focus on Actually Improving Them

A few states have undertaken the location-level methodology that precisely maps the availability of broadband services to every address in the state, said Price. Some of these states have contracted with LightBox.

Other states are choosing to collect broadband availability data through speed tests and surveys to approximate where broadband services are and are not. These types of maps are not as accurate as address location-level maps, said Price.

Price said it looks like over 30 states may be forgoing creating their own maps and are choosing to accept the results of the FCC maps.

Possible problems facing state-level maps

Obtaining ISP support and cooperation has proven to be difficult for state officials, according to some. Clay Purvis of Vermont’s Community Broadband Board indicated to Broadband Breakfast that carriers do not always provide complete reports of service areas. Dilg of Utah agreed, adding that it is a challenge getting ISPs to participate in updating maps, which Utah does on a semi-annual basis.

Furthermore, Vermont is concerned that the FCC will not accept data from its drive-test data during the challenge process.

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Broadband Mapping

Utah’s Broadband Maps Are Ready for Federal Funding, Broadband Director Says

‘The efforts that have been done in the past have been a great foundation.’

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SALT LAKE CITY, July 13, 2022 – Utah’s work on its own broadband availability maps means it is prepared for billions in federal funds coming from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, said the state’s broadband director at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

“The efforts that have been done in the past have been a great foundation,” said Rebecca Dilg, director of the Utah Broadband Center, the state’s broadband office.

Utah’s decade-old broadband availability maps are updated every six months and Dilg said they provide a foundation for upcoming money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, the $42.5-billion initiative from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Utah counties work with the state broadband office to continually update a layer on the map that shows individual addresses, added Kelleigh Cole, director of strategic initiatives at the Utah Education Network, a state research network. This layer allows the broadband office to see whether broadband access extends to specific addresses.

Mapping data, said Dilg, prepares the state broadband office to address “doughnut holes” where urban centers receive high-speed coverage, but surrounding areas do not. The BEAD program requires that unserved residents are served first, but Utah’s broadband office is optimistic that the funds will reach into underserved areas, including cities where antiquated technology, like digital subscriber lines, are primarily used.

The Federal Communications Commission assured that its nationwide broadband coverage maps will be available by the fall. The Broadband Data Collection portal on the FCC website is currently open for internet providers and governments to submit coverage data.

Utah is home to the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber, West Valley City, which is also the largest U.S. city connected via an open access network.

Screenshot of Rebecca Dilg, director of the Utah Broadband Center.

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Broadband Mapping

FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program

The data will go toward improved maps, which the FCC chair said will be available by the fall.

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Screenshot of Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox

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.

Screenshot of Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox

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.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

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.

Panelists:

  • 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

Panelist resources:

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.

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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