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Broadband Mapping & Data

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



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


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

State Broadband Officials Gear Up for Map Challenges as Some Still Concerned About Resources

Some state officials are concerned about county-level understaffing.



Photo at Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit in Washington on December 5, 2023.

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2023 — As U.S. states and territories put the final touches on Initial Proposals outlining how they will utilize $42.5 billion made available for broadband expansion through the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, state broadband offices are gearing up for what is expected to be a months-long challenge process ahead, said panelists at the Digital Infrastructure Investment Summit 2023.

While each of the 56 states and territories may determine their own preferred approach, each challenge process is required to include the following four phases: (1) publication of locations deemed eligible for BEAD funding; (2) a challenge process in which a unit of local government, a nonprofit organization, or a broadband service provider may submit refuting evidence; (3) the challenged service provider may rebut the reclassification of a location with evidence; and (4) states and territories determine of the final classification of the location.

Louisiana’s adjudication process is set to begin this Friday, and the state already has “160,000 unique location challenges,” said Thomas Tyler, deputy director of Connect Louisiana. The challenge process is projected to last until January 2024, when the state’s broadband office will make its final decision on eligible BEAD locations and submit its findings to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for approval.

Rick Gordon, director of the Maryland Office of Statewide Broadband, issued a warning to entities to do their due diligence when declaring locations to be served or unserved. “Once addresses are claimed as served, we don’t have the ability to go back and change that, so we have to be very careful,” Gordon said. For example, Maryland will allow an ISP with plans to deploy into an area to claim those addresses to be served, but only if a legally binding agreement with the state exists, which requires the ISP follow through on the agreement. The state projects its challenge process will last from February to May.

The panelists voiced concern over the vast range in different communities’ current understanding of the BEAD program, stating that broadband offices should air on the side of overcommunication with communities as they advance toward their challenge processes. “Some communities have lined up everything they need and are ready to apply for BEAD fairly soon. On the other end of the spectrum, we are working with some communities to bring them up to speed on what the definition of served and unserved is, and what they need to be doing now to challenge some of those things. It’s that range that concerns us,” said Brian Vo, chief investment officer at Connect Humanity.

This sentiment was echoed by Gordon, who detailed that some of Maryland’s county governments merely have part-time IT departments, while other counties have fully staffed GIS departments.

“We need to make sure that these more rural counties are just as equipped to handle the challenge process,” Vo assured.

The panel detailed challenges small or municipal internet service providers have faced in their pursuit of BEAD funding.

Initially, a letter of credit requirement deterred some smaller ISPs from participating in the program. That requirement was waived in early November, as the NTIA responded to public comment that this requirement would prevent the very type of service providers from participating, that BEAD was aiming to bolster.

The panel forewarned that service providers must also account for the fact that BEAD grants are taxable as income on both the state and federal level, which will largely affect the cost of projects. The federal government will tax the awarded grants at 15 percent.

Looking ahead, the panel agreed that BEAD will not connect 100 percent of the unserved, and called for the creation of a subgrant program to reach universal connectivity.

“We are going to need more capital, and new investment models,” voiced Vo. “Continued communication with regulation is critical.”

The session was moderated by Maria Curi, a reporter at Axios.

Editor’s note: A prior version of this story incorrectly noted the month that Louisiana’s challenge process will end. It will end in January, not May.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Robocalls, Rip and Replace, Pole Attachments: More Notes From the FCC Oversight Hearing

Commissioners and House lawmakers discussed key topics at a contentious hearing.



Screenshot of commissioners at the hearing Thursday.

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – All five Federal Communications Commissioners took part in a lengthy and at times contentious House oversight hearing on Thursday.

Commissioners urged Congress to restore the FCC’s authority to action spectrum, which expired in March and left the nation’s airwaves in limbo, and to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program, the low-income internet subsidy set to dry up in April of next year. 

GOP lawmakers FCC Republicans also took the chance to slam efforts by the commission’s Democratic majority.

The discussion touched on other issues including robocall prevention, rip and replace funding, and pole attachments.


The commission has been taking action on preventing robocalls this year, kicking off an inquiry into using artificial intelligence to detect fraud, blocking call traffic from 20 providers for lax enforcement policies and issuing hundreds of millions in fines. In August the commission also expanded the STIR/SHAKEN regime – a set of measures to confirm caller identities – to all providers who handle call traffic.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel asked multiple times for three Congressional actions she said would help the commission crack down on scam calls: a new definition for “autodialer,” the ability to collect fines, and access to Bank Secrecy Act information.

The Supreme Court limited the definition of autodialers in 2021 to devices that store or produce phone numbers with random or sequential number generators. That leaves the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which guides the FCC’s authority, “stuck in the nineties,” according to Rosenworcel.

“A lot of scam artists are using technologies no longer covered” by the act, she said. “We can’t go after them.”

On collecting robocall fines, that authority currently rests with the Department of Justice, and Rosenworcel is not the first to tell Congress the agency’s enforcement has been lax. Industry groups at an October Senate hearing cited slow DOJ action as a major reason FCC fines on the issue often go uncollected.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to keep records on certain transactions to help law enforcement agencies track money laundering and other criminal activity. The FCC cannot access information governed by the act, which Rosenworcel said would help the commission go after repeat scammers.

“These scam artists set up one company, we shut them down, they go and set another one up,” she said.

Rip and replace

Commissioners urged Congress to fund the rip and replace program. Congress allocated $1.9 billion to reimburse broadband companies for replacing network equipment from Chinese companies deemed to be national security threats, mainly Huawei and ZTE.

The FCC was tasked with overseeing the program and found in 2022 that another $3 billion would be needed to get the work done. The Biden administration joined a chorus of lawmakers and broadband companies in calling for Congress to fill the gap, but legislation on the issue has yet to be passed.

“We’re providing 40 cents on the dollar to a lot of small and rural carriers,” said Rosenworcel. “They need more funds to get the job done.”

The commission has been granting extensions to providers unable to get the work done on time. In addition to supply chain issues, some small providers cite a lack of funding as the reason they’re unable to replace insecure equipment.

Pole attachments

Commissioners expressed a willingness to shift some of the burden of utility pole replacements off of broadband providers as they attach new equipment.

“If a pole is getting replaced,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said, “there’s probably a role for the FCC to say that the pole owner should bear somewhere north of the cost of $0.”

The commission has authority in 26 states over most pole attachment deals between utility pole owners and telecommunications companies looking to expand their networks. The issue of who pays for poles that need to be replaced to accommodate more communications equipment is contentious, with telecoms arguing utilities force them to pay for replacing already junk poles. 

After spending years sifting through thousands of comments, commissioners have apparently been persuaded. Rules up for a vote at the commission’s December meeting would limit the scenarios in which utilities could pass full replacement costs on to attachers.

Broadband funding map

Rosenworcel repeatedly asked lawmakers to work with the commission on ensuring its broadband funding map is kept up to date.

The FCC launched its funding map in May to keep track of the myriad federal broadband subsidy efforts and avoid funding the same areas multiple times. The Department of Agriculture, the FCC, and the Treasury Department each oversee separate broadband funding programs, in addition to the Commerce Department’s upcoming $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort.

The commission has signed memoranda of understanding with those agencies on providing data for the funding map, but Rosenworcel asked the subcommittee for help ensuring the agencies follow through and respond to FCC requests for their funding data. 

“If you could help us make sure those other agencies respond to us with data, you’ll see where there are problems, duplication, areas we haven’t reached,” she said.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Connect20 Summit: Data-Driven Approach Needed for Digital Navigation

The NTIA’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt broadband.



WASHINGTON, November 20, 2023 – Better data about broadband adoption is necessary to closing the digital divide in the U.S., a broadband expert said during a panel at the Connect20 Summit here.

Speaking on a panel about “The Power of Navigation Services,” the expert, Jessica Dine of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said states lack comprehensive data on why some residents remain offline. This information is essential for digital navigator programs to succeed, she said.

She highlighted the need for standardized national metrics on digital literacy and inclusion, and said that federal surveys – including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey – provide insights on barriers to technology adoption. But more granular data is required.

She also said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt the internet. For instance, understanding the nuances behind the ‘not interested’ response category could unveil targeted intervention strategies.

In particular, Dine praised Louisiana and Delaware for surveying communities on their connectivity needs, including overlaying socio-economic indicators with broadband deployment data. But she said more work is required to quantify the precise challenges different populations face.

Other panelists at the session, including Michelle Thornton of the State University of New York at Oswego, emphasized the importance of tracking on-the-ground efforts by navigators themselves.

Bringing in her experience from the field of healthcare navigation, Thornton underscored the value of tracking navigator activities and outcomes. She suggested a collaborative model where state-level data collection is supplemented by detailed, community-level insights from digital navigators.

The panel was part of the Connect20 Summit held in Washington and organized by Network On, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Broadband Breakfast.

The session was moderated by Comcast’s Kate Allison, executive director of research and digital equity at Comcast.

To stay involved with the Digital Navigator movement, sign up at the Connect20 Summit.

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