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Broadband Mapping & Data

Local Communities Are Essential to Improving Internet Mapping, Say Broadband Breakfast Experts

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February 3, 2021 – Gathering data at the community level is key to improving broadband mapping, industry experts said during Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on the need for state and local engagement to improve broadband mapping.

“Accurate data is important to mapping.” said Peggy Schaffer, executive director at ConnectMaine,  a state office facilitating broadband access. “Information is power.”

“Right now, that power is in the hands of [internet service providers, and] we need to bring that power to communities,” she said. Communities want to know where they are not getting broadband service, but they currently don’t have access to that data.

CostQuest’s Mike Wilson agreed: “Community level planning is critical and is the best practice,” he said. “If you want a sustainable mapping program that leads to closing the digital divide, it has to be at the community level,” he said.

“I am more convinced than ever about the importance and central role that states need to play in broadband mapping,” said Vetro Fiber’s Brian Mefford, “Every state should have the opportunity to play that central role, so as more stimulus comes down the pipe and more legislation is considered, that’s going to be key to the success of these efforts,” he said.

Wilson also talked about CostQuest’s broadband fabric that enables location-specific information about service-level availability.

Precise location data allows government funding to go to actual unserved areas, not areas that might be unserved because assessments were based on old or inaccurate data, he said.

In August 2019 the Federal Communications Commission began its Digital Opportunity Data Collection program, improving on the Form 477 that the FCC continues to use to gather broadband data since it began collecting data around 2000, shortly after doing so was called for by the Telecom Act of 1996.

The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act in March 2020 largely ratified the approach that the FCC was taking, and the December 2020 appropriations package unlocked funding to effectively implement the new mapping system.

The FCC finalized the rules for the system on January 19. It is aimed at improving data gathering and moving toward a new fabric-like system.

Local level officials must be involved in data-gathering and community partnerships

The panelists on the Broadband Breakfast program agreed that data gathering is most effective at the local level with communities and partnerships.

Schaffer discussed partnerships with other communities and institutions such as healthcare or economic development organizations. Maine, Washington, and other states, are also “crowdsourcing” broadband connection data in order to measure connection speeds, and to verify who is and who is not connected.

Crowdsourcing requires lots of partners and outreach in order to build a large, effective dataset that accurately maps broadband access, she said.

The panel also touched upon the FCC’s definitional threshold for broadband: 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download /3 Mbps upload. Wilson said states have used different thresholds: 25/25, 100/100, or even all the way up to 1000/1000 Mbps, or a symmetrical Gigabit connection.

“States are starting to critically look at that already before the feds do,” Wilson said. “I see that in the immediate horizon that will be adjusted,” he said.

Time to pay as much attention to upspeed as to downspeed

For her part, Schaffer emphasized the importance of upload speed, and not just download speed. First, it’s how technology is driven. Second, “Upspeed is how we as citizens who use this service provide information back in, how we talk to the world,” she said.

“Downspeed is consumer, upspeed is creation,” she said. “If we connect everyone in this country and all they do is watch Netflix with it, we have not done the economic purpose that broadband can do.” People should be “part of the conversation,” and not just consumers.

States’ and local community’s participation in broadband speed thresholds can allay the perceived concern of some that federal funding goes to “overbuild” in areas in which some measure of broadband is already available, Mefford said.

Wilson concluded the panel by highlighting the work that has been done to improve broadband mapping. We are on the cusp, he said, of “getting broadband mapping and data to the point where it is more closely reflecting the experience of consumers on the ground.”

This discussion is just one of a five-part event series, “Tools for Broadband: Preparing for Success, on Broadband Breakfast Live Online.

“Tools for Broadband Deployment” is sponsored by:


Render Networks


ADTRAN

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.

Reporter Tim White studied communication and political science at the University of Utah, and previously worked on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress. A native of Salt Lake City, he escapes to the Pacific Northwest as often as he can. He is passionate about politics, Star Wars, and breakfast cereal.

Broadband Mapping & Data

Service Providers Should Partner with Organizations to Comprehend Broadband Data

For companies to have successful builds, they need to ensure they know how to interpret their data.

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Left to right: Paul Sulisz, Gerry Lawlor, and Brian Medford.

HOUSTON, October 4, 2021 — Broadband service providers should work with organizations to understand their own broadband data sets and maps, according to experts.

Speaking at the Broadband Communities Summit last week, Biarri Networks CEO Paul Sulisz explained that even if someone has data, that does not mean that they will have the ability to act on it or follow through on their plans. Ensuring that data sets are interoperable is crucial, he said.

“It is important to understand and agree on how to aggregate data,” Sulisz said. “There are so many people that start on the journey [to build out broadband], go down the wrong path, and then need a rescue mission.”

Broadband experts agree that without the ability to integrate broadband data sets and maps, many broadband expansion efforts will hardly be able to get off the ground.

Sulisz noted that many of these wrong paths are chosen because people are working with data that is incomplete or that they do not understand, and that is why it is so important to work with organizations that are capable of parsing through and comprehending data.

“If [companies] do not do the planning up front with people who have a good track record—it is going to be tough,” Sulisz continued. “Talk to people who have a good track record—go do your homework.”

Gerry Lawlor, the CEO of Open5G, said it is important for those working on broadband projects to understand how to define demand and how to secure long-term investment to meet that demand. He said that often companies that just put their heads down and think that hard work will pull an effort through are the same companies that need to be rescued.

Both men emphasized the need for companies to be prepared for accelerated growth, explaining that once one neighborhood gets faster service, the neighbors will want it, and so on. They said that it is crucial for data logged in potentially disparate systems to communicate effectively to sustain scalable growth.

As it stands now, many companies are being left to their own devices until new Federal Communications Commission mapping data is released sometime next year, though these efforts have inspired less confidence in the wake of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund – following the award process, several companies have had to reevaluate their builds since many of the supposedly unserved areas they bid on were already served.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Sustainability and Scalability are Crucial For State Broadband Projects, Say State Experts

Partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity

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Photo courtesy Heartland Forward

September 21, 2021—Public-private partnerships for broadband need to emphasize community engagement to improve connectivity in regions that need help, state broadband officials said Tuesday.

Speaking at a “Connecting the Heartland Conference Series,” BroadbandOhio CEO Peter Voderberg highlighted the state’s focus on ensuring student broadband connectivity. He highlighted the $50 million BroadbandOhio Connectivity Grant, for which more than 900 school districts have applied.

Funds could be allocated to subsidize the cost of internet for students without broadband, hotspot service plans, providing improved public Wi-Fi infrastructure, or otherwise improving existing connectivity, he said. Collaborative efforts between school districts and ISPs have been able to bring the overall cost of broadband down for consumers.

Voderberg also described a $250 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant to bring internet to areas with connections slower that 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

This program would subsidize private efforts by compensating ISPs for the difference between the cost of the project and the price it would take to make the effort profitable for them.

Illinois’ early efforts at broadband progress

Matt Schmit, director of the Illinois Broadband Office, pointed to “the three legs of the stool” for broadband expansion: Access, adoption, and utilization.

Illinois’ plans and programs were designed with this three-pronged approach in mind, he said, crediting Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker for establishing programs prioritizing broadband two years before the rest of the country is now doing.

Two key aspects of Illinois’ efforts are technology neutrality and a focus on scalability. “[We believe in focusing on] investing in an area and making sure that we have the kind of investment, service, and infrastructure that is going to serve [a] community well into the years ahead.”

In terms of prioritizing which communities and regions get service, Illinois considers any area with services less than 25 x 3 Mbps to be unserved, much like the federal government’s current broadband standard.

However, unlike the federal government, Illinois also has a category for what it considers to be underserved, which is any area below 100 x 20 mpbs. He called the state’s approach a compromise between advocates that have called for a broadband standard of 100 x 100 Mbps or even 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps). On the other hand, he said, are voices that argue against “future-proof” technologies, saying that gigabit speeds are gratuitous.

The most challenging aspect of providing service, however, is simply identifying which areas are served, underserved, or lacking coverage completely, he said.

“We don’t necessarily trust the maps that are out there—even our own,” he said, adding that mapping “is the start of the conversation, not the end of the conversation.”

It will only be through conversations with applicants, communities, and providers that enough data is collected to sufficiently serve the state, “We are investing in a community or investing in an area for the long term,” Schmit continued, “Because what we’re going to invest in is fully scalable for the needs, not only today, but for tomorrow.”

The event was hosted by National Urban League, agribusiness Land O’Lakes, Inc., and Heartland Forward, a think tank focused on rural economic development.

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Broadband Data

TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China

Broadband Breakfast briefly breaks down the topics to be discussed at the TPRC conference.

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Photo collage of experts from TPRC

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 – The TPRC research conference on communication, information, and internet policy is right around the corner and it is set to address some of the most pressing issues facing Big Tech, the telecom industry, and society at large. We cover some topics you can expect to see covered during the conference on September 22 to 24.

If the recent election cycle and the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that the threat of misinformation and disinformation pose a greater threat than most people could have imagined. Many social media platforms have attempted to provide their own unique content moderation solutions to combat such efforts, but thus far, none of these attempts have satisfied consumers or legislators.

While the left criticizes these companies for not going far enough to curtail harmful speech, the right argues the opposite— that social media has gone too far and censored conservative voices.

All this dissent has landed Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996—once a staple in the digital landscape—in the crosshairs of both Democrats and Republicans, as companies still scramble to strike a compromise to placate both sides of the aisle.

Definition of broadband

The future of broadband classifications is another topic that will also be touched on during the conference. This topic quickly became relevant at the outset of the pandemic, as people around the country began to attend school and work virtually.

It became immediately clear that for many Americans, our infrastructure was simply insufficient to handle such stresses. Suddenly, legislators were rushing to reclassify broadband. Efforts in Washington, championed primarily by Democrats, called for broadband standards to be raised.

The Federal Communications Commission’s standing definition of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload appeared to become unpopular overnight, as calls for symmetrical service, like 100 x 100 Mbps speeds, and even gigabit speeds became a part of the conversation.

Many experts were quick to strike back, particularly those operating in the wireless community, arguing that the average consumer does not need 100 Mbps symmetrical speeds, let alone one gigabit, and such efforts only amounted to fearmongering that would hurt the deployment of broadband infrastructure to unserved communities.

These experts contend that shifting the standards would diminish the utility and viability of any technology other than fiber, as well as delaying when unserved communities (as they are currently defined) can expect to be served. Broader topics surrounding rural broadband and tech-equity will also be prominently featured—addressing many of the questions raised by Covid-19 across the last year and a half.

Future of spectrum

Finally, the quest for spectrum will be discussed at the conference.

As ubiquitous 5G technology continues to be promised by many companies in the near future, the hunt is on to secure more bandwidth to allow their devices and services to function. Of course, spectrum is a finite resource, so finding room is not always easy.

Indeed, spectrum sharing efforts have been underway for years, where incumbent users either incentivized or are compelled to make room for others in their band—just like we saw the military in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band, and more recently between the Department of Defense and Ligado in the L band.

Even though these efforts are ongoing, there is still disagreement in the community about how, if at all, sharing spectrum will impact users in the band. While some argue that spectrum can be shared with little, if any, interference to incumbent services, others firmly reject this stance, maintaining that sharing bandwidth would be catastrophic to the services they provide.

On China

China is also going to be a significant topic at the conference. Due to the competitive nature of the U.S.-China relationship, many regard the race to 5G as a zero-sum game, whereby China’s success is our failure.

Furthermore, security and competition concerns have led the U.S. government to institute a “rip and replace” policy across the country, through which Chinese components—particularly those from companies such as Huawei—are torn out of existing infrastructure and substituted with components from the U.S. or countries we have closer economic ties with. The conference will feature several sessions discussing these topics and more.

Register for TPRC 2021

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