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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.

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.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Jeff Miller: Tools to Manage the Next-Generation Network Buildouts

Service providers that use GIS applications are able to reduce design time by 80 percent.

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The author of this expert opinion is Jeff Miller, Synchronoss Technologies CEO.

Today’s digital world is driving the insatiable need for fiber networks and connectivity, thus the thrust for widespread broadband buildouts and deployments worldwide. Broadband connectivity is the heartbeat for mobility, cloud applications, voice, video, and social media, not to mention home automation, IoT, and smart cities. As a result, service providers and operators are investing heavily in infrastructure, claiming their 5G networks are the largest or fastest or most reliable.

Initiatives like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund are aimed at bridging the digital divide and fast-tracking investment to deploy high speed fixed broadband service to rural areas and small businesses that lack it. The Federal Communications Commission’s $20.4 billion program requires that networks stand the test of time by prioritizing higher network speeds and lower latency.

A key element in the implementation of RDOF-backed projects is broadband mapping. The Federal Communications Commission is in the process of updating its current broadband maps with more detailed and precise information on the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, signed into law in March 2020, requires the FCC to change the way broadband data is collected, verified, and reported

As carriers build, expand, and upgrade their fiber network infrastructure, a great deal of planning is required, along with documenting the intricacies of design and engineering processes.

Streamlining and automating network planning and design processes through software can deliver accurate and timely network info for service providers, increase efficiency, and create opportunities for reducing costs.

GIS based systems are replacing volumes of paper, and outdated static CAD, Excel and Vizio files. They offer sophisticated tools to manage all aspects of network design and infrastructure management. Working with many service providers that use GIS applications, they are able to reduce design time by 80 percent and drastically cut other capital expenditures.

Automation is key

Having to rely on a system of manual processes to manage the fiber network makes it increasingly difficult to scale. Fortunately, with the introduction of automation into the network management process by utilizing an accurate physical network inventory in addition to geographic information system mapping, scalability becomes a much easier task.

Continuous planning and engineering tasks can ultimately become automated through software implementation. Automating network fiber management creates significant business value by shifting a service provider’s approach from reactive to proactive. A comprehensive and updated database for network architecture quickly allows for scenario analysis and capacity planning. Sharing automated processes across different organizations becomes much simpler and improves collaboration while reducing errors. This can allow staff to shift their focus to more pressing operational activities thus making the network more reliable.

Integration between different systems

Whether it is your enterprise GIS or outage monitoring system, it should be easy to interact with third-party systems to get the most out of the network data. Ideally, you should be able to receive an outage notification and use that location to track down the network and pinpoint the root cause to act and quickly resolve the situation before customers notice. This can help save time, money, and guarantee customer satisfaction.

Mobilize network data and increase field worker productivity

Utilizing a fiber networking and planning solution enables network information to be shared easily and quickly between the field and office to provide access to the information they need when they need it at any given time. Enterprise-wide access can provide timely and accurate network information for a wide range of communications service providers.

When it comes to service providers, expanded visibility into a network yields a greater overall awareness of the network. Automating third-party data exchange processes with accurate and up-to date inventory can optimize performance for field workers and guarantee customer satisfaction. Improved access to data can increase ROI by allowing cable locators and field techs to receive accurate confirmation before they arrive at a job. In the end, there will be fewer mistakes which ensures happier customers.

The right tools can result in improved scalability, reduced time to revenue, lower operational costs, and actionable insights that can be gleaned from network data.

Jeff Miller serves as President and CEO of Synchronoss Technologies. He previously served as President for IDEAL Industries Technology Group, following a 16-year experience with Motorola Mobility where he was Corporate Vice President of North America. Miller also serves on the Board of 1871, Chicago’s largest start-up incubator, and on the non-profit Boards of Aspire Chicago and Junior Achievement. This article is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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

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Broadband Mapping & Data

States Face Roadblocks in Challenge Processes, FCC Tries to Facilitate

The BEAD timeline looms large for many who worry that two months is insufficient time to correct the map.

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Photo of Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – As state broadband offices scramble to submit challenges to the national broadband map, the Federal Communications Commission is working to provide much-needed resources to help stakeholders through the often-opaque challenge processes.

The FCC’s new broadband map, released in November, provides location-level data of broadband availability nationwide. The map is comprised primarily of two datasets: a list of all broadband serviceable locations – the “fabric” – and provider-submitted availability data. The accuracy of both can be challenged by the public through designated processes.

The FCC has endeavored to create a consumer-friendly challenge-process, said Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the Wireline Competition Bureau. “We do try to make the process as flexible and accessible as it can be consistent with getting effective challenges and resolving them correctly,” he explained.

Burgee spoke at an FCC webinar held Wednesday to demystify the fixed-availability bulk-challenge process.

The FCC’s availability data will largely determine the distribution of the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program among the states. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the subdivision of the Department of Commerce which administers the BEAD funds, has advised the public to submit challenges by January 13, 2022, to ensure they are considered for BEAD grants – scheduled to be announced in June.

The immediate stakes of accurate mapping

If the FCC’s data is inaccurate when the NTIA calculates the allocations, some states could be shorted on badly needed funding. Some industry players say the map is concerningly inaccurate, and others say the FCC’s challenge processes may prove prohibitively complex.

Georgia has yet to submit fabric challenges, although it intends to, wrote Joshua Hildebrandt, the state’s director of broadband initiatives, in correspondence with Broadband Breakfast.

“So far, we have encountered a number of hurdles that have made a quick challenge submission difficult to do,” Hildebrandt explained. “Georgia is fortunate to have a considerable amount of data, which helped us create one of the nation’s first public statewide address-level broadband service maps.

“However, even with all of this applicable data in-house,” he added, “The FCC’s process for challenging fabric locations on a one-by-one basis still requires substantial effort and time.”

“The fabric is an enormous challenge, but we are very disappointed in the quality of the fabric and, more importantly, the insistence on using it and moving forward,” David Lukens, Connecticut’s broadband-mapping coordinator, told Broadband Breakfast.

“The FCC’s burdensome challenge process incentivizes…challenges focused only on potential BEAD project area,” he added.

Several state broadband officials told Broadband Breakfast that they have, by necessity, thus far submitted fabric challenges primarily for unserved areas, leaving the FCC’s data for numerous locations in better-served areas uncorrected. Some say, however, that they will submit additional challenges going forward.

The challenge process may work, but some say time is running short for BEAD

Spokespeople for the FCC and CostQuest have routinely acknowledged the errors in the map’s first draft and urged stakeholders to submit challenges to correct them. Some experts, including Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute, say inaccuracies are inevitable, but the challenge process will largely ameliorate them in time.

The BEAD timeline looms large for many who worry that less than two months – the interval between the map’s November release and January 13 – is insufficient time to correct the map. And like any massive undertaking, smaller entities struggle to keep up.

Kansas’ broadband director, Jade Piros de Carvalho, told Broadband Breakfast her small team lacks the bandwidth to submit a bulk challenge at all. Piros de Carvalho has encouraged her fellow Kansans to submit their own challenge. “Currently the FCC shows KS at about 5 percent unserved. We are more likely closer to 15 percent unserved, and that difference will have a direct negative impact on the dollars we receive,” she wrote Monday.

Maine will take a multi-stakeholder approach that will mobilize communities and regional partners, Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, told Broadband Breakfast. In addition, the state itself plans to submit bulk-availability and fabric challenges by January 13, Butcher said.

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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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