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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

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.

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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

Native Americans Need Control Over Mapping Data, Conference Hears

Indigenous connectivity advocates said Native Americans should have control over their mapping data.

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Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University.

October 18, 2021––Advocates for greater broadband access in Native American lands discussed the need for greater control over broadband mapping to address broadband challenges amongst Native American populations.

Traci Morris and H. Rose Trostle from the American Indian Policy Institute said Wednesday at the Indigenous Connectivity Summit that there is now an intense focus on “broadband inequality and digital equity” as it relates to Tribal nations.

Morris and Trostle’s indigenous-led office at Arizona State University analyzes policy recommendations on key issues in Indian country, and they’re working on a paper that would overview Indian country in the U.S., federal broadband maps, and a consideration of indigenous “data sovereignty”­­––the argument that native lands should have more control over their data mapping to improve broadband mapping in tribal lands.

The mapping undertaking is particularly important to Trostle. “Indigenous peoples have a long tradition of mapping,” they said. “This needs to be recognized when considering how we can improve modern maps of key services, including electricity, water, and broadband.”

Trostle underscored the gap in adequate broadband mapping between tribal lands and the rest of the United States. “Indian country is the canary in the coal mine of broadband mapping,” Trostle said. “Federal data has problems for not just tribal lands, but also non-tribal rural and urban areas.” In Trostle’s view, part of the problem is “a lack of people that understand broadband or tribal lands.” Trostle said their office’s study on the inadequacy of broadband mapping on tribal lands would be available “within the next year.”

The Indigenous Connectivity Summit also featured a discussion about indigenous data sovereignty.

Jeff Doctor, impact strategist at Animikii Indigenous Tech, argued that the native American individual’s connection with their larger collective cultural group makes their data more personal in nature and should be better protected.

In tribal lands, political belonging has an influence on their community and culture and “has a part in how we think of collective rights,” he said. Doctor described how native American lands have been disadvantaged by the U.S. government.

“When you look at how colonialism operates, it’s very extractive” he said. He urged summit attendees to think about how to build rights-based technology. He suggested taking a community-centralized approach to data rights and molding tech data policy around universal human rights.

The fifth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit held virtual sessions from October 12 to October 15, 2021. They met each year to discuss how Tribal nations can have affordable, quality, and sustainable internet access, and talk about how connectivity supports social and economic development.

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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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