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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

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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Broadband Mapping & Data

Commercial Mapping Products Positioned to Compliment, Challenge FCC Map

Commercial mapping products are emerging as complementary resources for both industry and government players.

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Photo of J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2022 – Although the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is statutorily bound to rely on the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map when dividing the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment fund among the states, private sector broadband mappers are positioning their own products as complementary resources for both industry and government players.

The FCC’s map went live Friday. J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, on Monday told Broadband Breakfast he has already incorporated data from the map into his “Infrastructure Essentials BEAD Toolkit,” which provides block-level coverage data as well as information on population density, income distribution, federal funding programs, and more. Luening said his toolkit aims to integrate all data that is relevant to BEAD-related decision making.

Another company that does mapping, Broadband.Money, is framing its product as a means by which to challenge the FCC’s data. The platform announced Thursday that subscribers can access features that enable analysis of location-level data, multi-unit locations, and anchor institutions.

Earlier this month, the NTIA said it plans to announce BEAD allocations by June 2023 and encouraged the public to submit challenge data by January to ensure they are processed in time to affect funding decisions.

NTIA head Alan Davidson, like the FCC, emphasized the importance of a robust challenge process: “The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” he said.

“The FCC’s upcoming challenge process is one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps guiding us as we allocate major…awards in 2023,” Davidson argued. “I urge every state and community that believes it can offer improvements to be part of this process so that we can deliver on the promise of affordable, reliable high-speed internet service for everyone in America.”

CostQuest Associates, the creator of the fabric, and competitor LightBox also offer commercial mapping services. CostQuest beat out LightBox for the FCC’s fabric contract and staved off LightBox’s attempt to challenge the decision.

Broadband.Money, LightBox, and Broadband Toolkit are sponsors of Broadband Breakfast.

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