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Broadband Mapping & Data

State Broadband Authorities Play Crucial Role in Mapping, Planning and Educating for Digital Inclusion

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April 2, 2021 – State broadband authorities working close to the ground say that the key to tackling the digital divide are states and local communities.

Accurately mapping where broadband is available has been a challenge for many years, and the latest Federal Communications Commission effort is creating a new “fabric” system that collects more granular data than the agency’s Form 477.

The Biden administration is looking at Congress making large funding investment in broadband. But the state broadband authorities speaking at Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event said that local efforts are essential to inform where funding is best used.

“Local communities may know better than anyone what is working and not working,” said Scott Rudd, director of broadband opportunities in Indiana’s Broadband Office.

Local communities provide central insight into broadband availability and use

Indiana encourages communities to engage their residents and businesses on the street level to find out what is happening in their neighborhood to get a better picture of who does or doesn’t get broadband, he said.

Colorado Broadband Office’s Teresa Ferguson said that the relationship with local communities was critical. The Colorado state geographic information system team works closely with local residents to crowdsource data to more accurately map broadband availability and to obtain consumer input. “We need to have that local voice to advocate for the community’s needs,” she said.

Matt Schmit, director for Illinois’ broadband office, stressed the value that the federal government can provide if broadband mapping is done correctly.

“Our federal partners, if they did it right, could really contribute to the overall effort in a really meaningful way,” he said. “A standardized kind of base or platform from which states and localities can innovate off of,” he said.

The key components to mapping are accuracy, timeliness and granularity, and combining those with “field validation survey work” and speed test data, he said.

Federal funding provides new opportunities to consider federal-state relationship

With so much federal funding being considered for broadband projects, Schmit said now is an opportunity to recalibrate state and federal cooperation.

“The states have proven their capability, they’ve got street cred now,” Ferguson said. States are very effective at implementing funding when they are given that leeway, as compared to one-size-fits-all funding solutions that aren’t always effective, she said.

The Connect America Fund and the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auctions are raising concerns for states because, under FCC rules, awardees do not need to completely build out for six years. That means some state residents may not see broadband for several years, she said.

Maryland’s strong county government structure means that the state relies heavily on county jurisdictions to provide availability data, said Rick Gordon, director of the Maryland governor’s rural broadband office. The state does not yet have a mapping program.

Maryland implemented two grant programs to subsidize building broadband out to unserved areas for service providers, Gordon said. They rely on local jurisdictions in which a local community is paired with a local providers to build the infrastructure.

State-led grassroots relationships and public-private partnerships

In Hawai’i, strategy officer Burt Lum explained that due to lacking of funding, the state began a grassroots effort through a Broadband Hui in 2020. (A “hui” means a group.)

The Broadband Hui is a collection of community stakeholders to find solutions for extending connectivity across the islands. They narrowed down their goals to access, literacy and livelihood, he said. He highlighted the need for better mapping and data gathering tools for Hawai’i.

In addition to better mapping tools, both Schmit and Lum emphasized digital literacy. “The pandemic has really shown a bright light on the fact that many populations in our state don’t have the digital literacy skills to take full advantage of the internet or the computers that they might have,” Schmit said.

Because so much of participation in society is digital, computer and digital literacy for residents are important, Lum said.

Even in solving these other problems, there is still a potential shortage of manpower and materials to actually build the broadband infrastructure. “Material and manpower are probably one of my biggest concerns right now,” Gordon said.

Gordon said that he had been discussing internship and apprenticeship options with electric companies that are branching into broadband. Further, in some rural areas, it’s almost impossible to find the skillset needed to build and operate these networks.

With federal funding coming, it may be difficult to meet the timelines set for that funding, he said. “While they’re trying to solve a problem, they’re creating a different problem,” he said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the March 31, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “State Broadband Authorities

  • Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce created the State Broadband Initiative. The partnership between state government officials, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission included an important component for state officials in broadband mapping. But State Broadband Initiatives did much more: They coordinated infrastructure investments, facilitated training and grants for digital literacy and digital inclusion, and helped raise consumer awareness about broadband. What’s the next chapter for state broadband authorities?

Panelists:

  • Scott Rudd, Director of Broadband Opportunities, Indiana Broadband Office
  • Teresa Ferguson, Director of Federal Broadband Engagement, Colorado Broadband Office (CBO)
  • Matt Schmit, Director, Illinois Office of Broadband
  • Kenrick Gordon, Director, Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, Maryland
  • Burt Lum, Strategy Officer, the Hawaii Broadband Initiative
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Scott Rudd currently serves as Director of Broadband Opportunities at the Indiana Broadband Office. He works closely with Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs on the Next Level Connections broadband grant program. Mr. Rudd has traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with federal legislators, learning more about the federal perspective of legislation regarding broadband and communicating Indiana’s strategy. Previously Mr. Rudd operated as the town manager and economic development director for the town of Nashville, Indiana, where he oversaw seven town commissions, three task forces, directed four departments and served as the town’s public information officer for four years. In that capacity, he also founded the Brown County Broadband Task Force to help steer the county’s broadband strategy and secured more than $20 million in private broadband investments to expand access to more than 7,500 homes and businesses in the area.

Teresa Ferguson is the Director, Federal Broadband Engagement for the Colorado Broadband Office (CBO). Prior to joining the CBO she worked for the Public Utilities Commissions of Missouri, Washington and Colorado where she held national leadership positions, engaging with the FCC, USAC, USDA and NARUC, advocating on behalf of state telecom & broadband policy interests. Ms. Ferguson spent 17 years in the private sector deploying broadband networks for schools & libraries and tribal nations funded through the federal E-Rate program.

Matt Schmit currently serves as Director of the Illinois Office of Broadband, where integration of 21st century infrastructure and service delivery is a primary focus of his work and research. He previously held office as a senator in his home state of Minnesota, and has served on many legislative boards on broadband deployment, transportation policy & investment, and community & economic development. In addition, Mr. Schmit has served on the Cook County Council on Digital Equity (CODE), the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) board, the Blandin Broadband Strategies board, the St John’s University Board of Regents, and the Legislative Water Commission; represented Minnesota on the National Conference of State Legislators Nuclear Energy Work Group and Commerce Committee; and was an active member of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and State Ag and Rural Leaders.

Kenrick Gordon currently serves as Director of the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, where he oversees the expansion of broadband capabilities statewide to bring access to households and businesses in Maryland’s rural areas. He has over 30 years in engineering design and construction administration experience, beginning as a civil engineer working with municipalities on public works projects, then moving into commercial and industrial development. Mr. Gordon has also served at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a General Field Representative for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Telecommunications Program.

Burt Lum is the State of Hawaii’s Strategy Officer for the Hawaii Broadband Initiative dedicated to digital equity and ensuring that Hawaii establishes robust, resilient, ubiquitous connectivity to the global broadband network. He was previously the Executive Director of Hawaii Open Data, a non-profit dedicated to advancing the principles of open data/knowledge in Hawaii, including policy work and community collaborations. He has more than 30 years in Hawaii’s technology and communications sector and is a frequent speaker and panelist on the topic of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Moderator Drew Clark, the Editor of Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, is also a telecommunications attorney at Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, The CommLaw Group. Clark served as executive director of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, the State Broadband Initiative in the land of Lincoln. PCI engaged in broadband mapping and planning, infrastructure investment, and digital literacy training. For more than a decade, Clark has been one of country’s leading voices advocating for improved broadband mapping efforts and a rational geospatial system for collecting broadband data.

Panelist Resources

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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

Community Crowdsourcing Efforts Essential to Accessing Federal Broadband Funding

In the absence of reliable federal broadband mapping data, communities are taking matters into their own hands.

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Photo of Lai Yi Ohlsen and Dustin Loup by Jericho Casper

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 27, 2022 –Two data experts speaking at the Mountain Connect conference here on Wednesday said it was vital for the Federal Communications Commission to maintain transparency about its methods as it produces an updated broadband map.

The release of $42.5 billion in federal broadband funding through the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is contingent upon new broadband maps being produced by the Federal Communications Commission.

Agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has committed to delivering such maps by the fall. During a House Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight hearing on March 31, when asked about progress, she said: “Absolutely, yes. We will have [complete] maps in the fall.”

Completed Maps Will ‘Absolutely’ Be Available This Fall, FCC’s Rosenworcel Says

Still, many are skeptical.

In particular, states and localities are involved in data collection, too – if only to have data to challenge FCC maps. Lai Yi Ohlsen, director of Measurement Lab, and Dustin Loup, program manager of the National Broadband Mapping Coalition for the Marconi Society, said that detailing methodologies will be important to the challenge process.

Loup recommended that communities announce speed tests and include a survey in order to get a sense of where the participant is located, what plan they are paying for and encourage participants to take the test multiple times to see how Internet speeds fluctuate at different hours of the day.

Ohlsen and Loup also said that communities should provide speed tests in different languages and partner with community anchor institutions, local media, and radio stations for publicity.

Questions about the new federal map

The new broadband “fabric” under construction by the FCC aims to address granularity issues of previous maps by enabling address-by-address data. But as to the legitimacy of the new FCC maps, the duo said that the maps will still paint an inaccurate picture of where broadband is and is not accessible across the country.

This is because the data used to create the new maps, they said, will be based upon industry-advertised broadband speeds and not actual user-experienced speeds.

This is particularly worrisome because funds under the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program will be awarded to each state and territory will be primarily based on the number of locations considered to be unserved with broadband, as defined by 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) down by 3 Mbps up. This is why cities, counties, and states are currently creating strategies to crowdsource residents in order to develop their own broadband maps in the event that the FCC misrepresents internet access options available to their residents.

Challenge process

Although the NTIA is required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to use the FCC’s new mapping fabric, they will also be subject to new scrutiny.

In particular, local governments, nonprofit organizations and broadband service providers can produce their own data to challenge the eligibility of a locality for grant funding.

The challenge process will begin once the FCC’s new maps are made public. Any government entity or nonprofit with conflicting evidence will be able to file their findings through an FCC platform, said Ohlsen and Loup.

Providers will be automatically notified of the challenge and have 60 days to respond to the challenger, in order to try and resolve the inconsistencies. If the entities fail to resolve differences in the conflicting data, the FCC will be responsible for making the final decision.

Broadband Breakfast on June 1, 2022 — Broadband Mapping and Data

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 1, 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.

=Panelist resources:

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Bryan Darr: Federal Broadband Funding is Available for Local Governments

Ookla can help your community get the funding you need to provide access for all to the digital economy.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Bryan Darr, vice president of Smart Communities at Ookla.

Local governments, the clock is ticking.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act set billions of dollars out on the infrastructure buffet table for local governments in the United States and there are more guests invited to the party than ever before.

This funding is almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect your community and provide access for all to the digital economy. The question is: will you be at the front or the back of the line?

Ookla can help you. This article is designed to give you the information you need to get started on the path toward getting the funding you need for your communities.

Look to your state for funding

Historically, broadband funding has had a very top-down approach.

The Federal Communications Commission has held almost all the power to determine where federal broadband infrastructure dollars have been spent. But for the first time, state governments will have an active role in guiding these decisions.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directs $65 billion to improving broadband connectivity across the U.S., with $42.45 billion earmarked for building new infrastructure.

Once the initial FCC map has been released, each state that has declared their intent to participate through National Telecommunications and Information Administration will be provided a minimum $100 million to get the process started (U.S. territories will split an additional $100 million).

Much of the remaining $22 billion will target affordability, but more on that later.

The race for resources will be officially off and running.

Following this initial disbursement, there will be roughly $37 billion more to be awarded from the IIJA alone.

Many states are still sitting on billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Acts and broadband is an allowable expenditure for these remaining stimulus dollars.

Add to that the long running connectivity programs such as Connect America Fund, Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, Mobility Fund and the upcoming Rural 5G Fund, and all those programs combined approach $100 billion over the next decade.

Plan ahead to increase your competitiveness

Past programs have provided funding without setting proper expectations on results. More emphasis is now being placed on planning.

With a focus on estimated cost per service address, network design takes a front seat to ensure these resources are spent efficiently and state officials will be allowed to use up to five percent of this for mapping, designing, and cost estimation.

Most states are already planning, or already building, their own broadband availability maps. But if you have connectivity issues in your community, it’s time to make it known to those who will be responsible for directing funds and deciding which communities will see investment and which will not.

Ookla helped Loudoun County, Virginia secure $17 million

We have experience helping local governments navigate this challenging planning process.

When FCC Form 477 broadband availability data showed that nearly 100% of Loudoun residents have access to what the FCC defines as broadband (25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download, 3 Mbps upload), this was inconsistent with the connectivity experiences of county residents.

So the Loudoun Broadband Alliance chose to use Ookla Speedtest Intelligence® to create an accurate and reliable broadband access mapping methodology using real-world network performance data.

With this data, LBA identified a large number of unserved households in contrast to FCC data which showed them as served. Loudoun County was subsequently awarded over $17 million of funding to help eliminate the broadband gap.

Keep in mind that the maps will never be finished. They will change and evolve as the networks in your area grow.

Funded projects will need to be monitored for compliance and older networks will need to be watched for signs of deterioration. Everyone will need to keep an eye on progress, measure successes, and have the data to act early when projects go off track.

Acadiana, Louisiana used Speedtest data to win $30 million

With Speedtest data, the Acadiana Planning Commission was able to successfully challenge FCC maps on over 900 out of approximately 1,000 census blocks.

The APC applied for funding through the NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Program, which made $288 million in funding available to help close the digital divide in the U.S.. There were over 230 applicants, and only 13 grants were awarded.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Acadiana in March to announce that the APC had been awarded a $30 million grant that will fund high-speed internet in 11 rural Acadiana communities.

Think big! Broadband funding is available for more than just infrastructure

Accessibility to broadband requires at least four components: infrastructure, affordability, equipment, and knowledge. The lack of any one of these means an individual does not have access to today’s digital economy.

Much of the focus has been on the lack of infrastructure in many rural communities, but infrastructure is the absolutely essential piece for anyone in any community to get connected.

The second component, affordability, often drives the last two requirements as people who cannot afford internet service often cannot afford the necessary equipment and, therefore, are less likely to have developed the knowledge to use it.

Tracking both of these two primary elements is key to understanding the digital divide.

You might qualify for funding in more than one of these four areas. For example, over $14 billion in a new Affordable Connectivity Program is included in the broadband portion of the IIJA.

Remaining funds include $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Grant Program and the $2 billion Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, as well as two more programs that will assist the USDA improve the internet in agricultural communities.

Agencies and local governments should work together

Cities should be coordinating with counties and other government entities within the same region — but someone needs to be in charge.

If your local government does not have an individual charged with coordinating all these efforts, there is bound to be duplication of efforts, wasted resources, stagnation of ideas, or all of the above.

Whether this person reports directly to the chief technology officer, chief information officer, mayor, or city manager, their purpose is to understand what all departments are doing in the space and coordinate discussions, grant opportunities, and overlapping initiatives to make sure that departments aren’t working at cross purposes.

Non-profits, community activists, and local corporations all have a stake in the success of these efforts.

Traffic problems won’t suddenly end at the municipal boundary. Improving traffic on one side of the line may create more problems on the other side. Working together with your neighbors is just as important as working with internal departments. The same can be said of both fixed and wireless broadband infrastructure.

Dig-once projects will score extra points in the competition to have projects selected.

Broadband is only part of the $1.2 billion infrastructure law. Roads, bridges, ports, and rail have billions of dedicated dollars as well.

Digging a new trench for a clean water system? Coordinate with the project to include conduit and fiber and your efficient use of taxpayer funds will likely be rewarded.

Consider funding for multiple technologies

As great as it might be to provide every service address in the country with a fiber connection, it may not make economic sense in some places.

But an important detail was clearly stated in the legislation that recognizes a technology neutral stance on solutions.

The rules are not yet complete on how the FCC and NTIA will award the IIJA funds and contend with challenges to their findings, but there are certainly far fewer restrictions on the ARPA funds that are already disbursed to the states. Many connectivity projects are already underway whether through infrastructure development, equipment distribution, or subsidies for affordable service.

Wireless services can get people connected much faster and there are several forms.

Traditional mobile operators are rolling out 5G and Fixed Wireless Access in some areas that can directly compete with traditional fixed services. Wireless internet service providers have launched coverage to homes and businesses that previously had satellite as their only option.

Some municipalities and school systems have launched private 4G LTE networks to connect underserved areas in their communities. And municipal Wi-Fi can still be an important part of an overall solution.

A portion of families may never find subscribing to a fixed network practical, but wireless services allow for easier movement and some don’t even require a residence. Understanding wireless network availability and performance across your jurisdiction is just as important as planning a fiber network.

And here’s a bonus — cellular and other transmission sites need fiber for any new 5G cell site. So if you know where your wireless networks need additional infrastructure, you can plan for places in the network to offer them accessible fiber connections.

If your state still has ARPA funds available, you still have an opportunity to make improvements and learn more about connectivity issues so you are better able to make your case for the IIJA funds as they begin to flow.

Ookla can provide you with the data you need to be competitive for federal funding

It has been said for years that broadband is the fourth utility.

Local governments have spent a lot of their resources managing the first three: water, gas, and electricity.

If any of those become unavailable, even for a brief period of time, their citizens will make their unhappiness known. Resiliency of these services will play a part in how elected officials are judged, whether the local government supplies these services or just manages an external provider.

If you serve in local government, you should anticipate the same expectations going forward for broadband in your community.

The internet has become vital to the way we live our lives, and access to it dictates much of our success both as residents and businesses. Recognizing connectivity as a critical service may have been a consequence of a pandemic, but that change in thinking is here to stay.

That’s why Ookla is here to help you learn more about the connectivity in your area.

We’ve already helped local governments secure tens of millions of dollars in federal funding in Loudoun County, Virginia and Acadiana, Louisiana. We are also working with state broadband offices as well as municipalities to help them gain visibility into network availability and performance.

If you want your community to take advantage of the billions pouring into improving connectivity, get in line before it’s too late.

Drawn from billions of Speedtest results, Ookla’s Broadband Performance Dataset provides governments, regulators, ISPs, and mobile operators with insights about the state of fixed networks and broadband accessibility. The Broadband Performance Dataset helps you identify unserved and underserved areas, prioritize investment opportunities to improve access to broadband, challenge funding decisions, and secure grants.

To learn more about the Broadband Performance Dataset, Speedtest Intelligence, and other solutions for your state and/or local governments, please contact us.

Bryan Darr is the Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla. He coordinates Ookla’s outreach to local, state and federal governments and serves on CTIA’s Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Group. This piece was first published on Ookla’s web site, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband Mapping

Industry Concerned About Challenges of Getting Mapping Data to FCC

The FCC has a September deadline for mapping data it will begin collecting at the end of June.

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Photo of Lynn Follansbee from October 2019 by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2022 – Key players in the broadband industry are under pressure to deliver coverage data to the Federal Communications Commission, as some expressed concern Monday about workforce availability and the costs of getting that data to the agency.

Specifically, the Federal Communications Bar Association event heard that certification requirements for professional engineers are causing concerns, especially among small internet providers. And workforce shortages are pushing hiring costs up, which small companies often cannot afford.

“Everybody is going to have different challenges depending on the size of the company,” Lynn Follansbee, vice president of strategic initiatives and partnerships at US Telecom, said at the FCBA event Monday.

A big company has “challenges just by sheer number of communities served” and smaller companies often don’t have sufficient manpower for efficiently reporting coverage, Follansbee added.

Chris Wieczorek, senior director of spectrum policy at T-Mobile, said the key is to strike a balance between accountability with proper certifications and small staff limitations.

The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act requires the FCC to collect new data from fixed broadband service providers to construct a new map, which is expected by this fall and will help federal programs deliver billions in funding to underserved and unserved areas. In April, the FCC released the preliminary broadband serviceable location fabric to help prepare providers for their data submissions due in September.

Christine Sanquist, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter, stated that although the FCC has provided the preliminary fabric, “the biggest challenge for Charter is really that the BDC requirements are so different from the Form 477 requirements,” which were the existing forms submitted by providers and which yielded data inaccuracies.

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