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Broadband Mapping

Washington State’s Russ Elliot Touts Mapping to the Doorstep as Key to Success

Washington State’s head of broadband says mapping to the premises paying dividends in the state.

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Photo of Russ Elliot

April 28, 2021—Washington state’s use of broadband mapping to the doorstep could be a model for deployment success in the country, said the head of the state’s broadband office.

“We built one of the most compelling maps in the country,” said Russ Elliot at the Route Fifty “Digital Divide” event Tuesday. “We’re mapping down to the doorstep,” adding in 2021, broadband mapping must occur on a much more precise level.

“Broadband is no longer census blocks, and counties,” Elliot said. “It’s now streets and addresses.”

The conference heard about Elliot’s role as head of the Washington State Broadband Office and how he means to achieve his goals in this role.

Funding and mapping

Elliot attributes much of Washington’s success to the specificity of their planning stage—both as it pertains to the funding required and their mapping efforts. Elliot made it clear that shovel-ready projects in Washington only receive the greenlight once they have made evaluations for very specific monies.

Though the cost of deployment may be high, Elliot argued that that cannot be an obstacle. “No longer can we be thinking in context of, ‘Well, that’s too expensive to build.’ We have to start thinking of context of, “What is it going to cost if we don’t [build]?’”

Specific funding coupled with what he touts as Washington’s superior mapping, is what Elliot claims has made Washington’s broadband deployment successful.

Before he was appointed to lead the Washington State Broadband Office by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019, Elliot served as the broadband manager for the Wyoming Business Council. Before that, he had spent eleven years in the private sector working to deploy broadband to rural communities.

Community-first focus

Elliot established early on that his philosophy regarding deployment is that it must be a “community-up discussion.” He said that every dialogue about expanding broadband must begin at the community level, and that expansion will only be successful if the uniqueness of the needs of every community are recognized.

He said that before his team even begins the planning stage, they build a partnership with the communities in question by understanding who they will be serving. These partnerships foster communication, professional and personal relationships, and improved stakeholder collaboration. He explained that it was only after they facilitate this relationship of mutual understanding that they enter the planning stage.

Private partnerships

Elliot also emphasized that this not an effort that can be successful exclusively through public investment; he was adamant that expansion efforts will be most successful when communities leverage public-private relationships to accomplish their goals.

“Washington State understands that we didn’t become a state that’s very well connected based on all public infrastructure,” Elliot said. “We got there based on good, sound investment by private providers—we have to honor that investment, and bring forward public investment where the private investment doesn’t make sense.”

In conclusion, Elliot put it plainly, “Broadband doesn’t get built overnight,” he said. He acknowledged that this is a plan for the long haul, and it will take years to complete, “My five-year-old will be paying for it in about 15-20 years. If he is paying for it and he is not able to use the infrastructure that we’re paying for today, shame on me, and shame on all of us.”

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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Broadband Mapping

CostQuest to Supply FCC Broadband Map After Watchdog Denies Contract Appeal

The Government Accountability Office rejected LightBox’s bid to protest CostQuest’s award to build the map.

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Screenshot of Costquest President Jim Stegeman from December 2020

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2022 – The Government Accountability Office last Thursday denied an appeal by real estate mapping company LightBox that challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s selection of CostQuest Associates to construct the agency’s enhanced broadband map.

In a press release Wednesday, CostQuest, a mapping data provider, announced the decision by the watchdog, stating that though the appeal delayed its “contract performance” by three months, the company is on track and expected to deliver the first version of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric to the FCC “later this year.”

The GAO’s decision came just two days after the FCC officially set a date for June to begin collecting internet service provider data for the better map. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo previously said that her communications with the agency yielded a possible summertime release of the map.

The FCC awarded the contract to CostQuest in November as part of its obligation under the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technology Availability Act, which became law in 2020.

The creation of a national fabric – or aggregation of data into a single model for the country – is a critical part of bridging the digital divide and integral for the disbursal of billions in federal funds from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, $42.5 billion of which is managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Broadband mapping has been widely discussed in recent years and the FCC has acknowledged that its efforts on this front have been insufficient. The FCC’s current maps only reflect broadband service on the census block level, meaning that if a single address in a census block has access to broadband, the entire census block is considered to have access to broadband. The agency has also begun collecting crowdsourced data.

The services outlined by CostQuest show a higher level of granularity, being able to distinguish between specific addresses, their broadband speeds and quality, and regional marketing trends. In addition to being able to aggregate this address specific data, CostQuest will be able to overlay and compare it with cost, funding, and technology assessments.

States taking initiative on mapping

Though some states were already in the process of their own respective mapping efforts, many will still be largely dependent on federal maps to apply for funding and ultimately deploy broadband infrastructure to underserved and unserved Americans.

“States will have direct access to the location data in the BSLF to support the collective effort of building a better national map,” Jim Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest, said in a press release Wednesday, adding it will be available to service providers as well.

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Broadband Mapping

Crowd-Sourced Broadband Maps Often More Useful Than Government Efforts, Panel Says

Community broadband data can be collected by harnessing the power of the individual.

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WASHINGTON, February 20, 2022 – Broadband maps created using crowd-sourced data can often be more useful in planning internet access than mapping efforts shepherded by state governments and higher ups, a panel of broadband data experts said.

The experts emphasized that incentives for states and grant deployment alone do not lead to successful broadband deployment and that stakeholder and community engagement are essential to calculated expansion plans.

The panel was convened earlier this month as part of the Broadband Breakfast Live Online webcast series, aiming to create dialogue on how to improve broadband mapping practices.

As opposed to some statewide efforts at broadband mapping that are mandated by state law, cofounder of consulting firm Breaking Point Solutions Glenn Fishbine spoke of community-based proposals in which individuals who are very tapped into the area where they live collect broadband data from those they know and submit it to the government. His GEO Software is distributed by GEO Partners.

Fishbine has observed areas where this has produced better mapping results than bureaucratic top-down governmental approaches to mapping.

Such methods are often much faster than states waiting for federal assistance in mapping.

Similarly, collecting data on a location basis rather than looking just at census blocks is essential to mapping, particularly for looking at overbuilding such as for disbursement of American Rescue Plan Act funds as University of Georgia Institute of Government Associate Director Eric McRae discussed.

Fishbine highlighted that different mapping approaches like this are unique to what data is trying to be collected – digital inequity studies may require one approach while looking at unserved areas and infrastructure in need of upgrades may require different approaches.

He also highlighted the need for plans to be cost-effective, demonstrating software he has worked on that allows for determination of what infrastructure projects are most likely to win grants based on prescribed grant criteria.

Picking which projects to pursue funding for in this manner is essential due to the fact that grant writers’ labor is a finite resource and they cannot apply to fund every single proposed project.

In the discussion, Kathryn de Wit of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative advocated for state broadband official engagement during infrastructure rollout. That will ensure better deployment opportunities in states beyond what federal grants alone will do.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Better Broadband Mapping, Part 1

This Broadband Breakfast Live Online event will kick off a series about how we can get better broadband mapping and data for making the most of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act funds. We’ll speak with policy-makers, map-makers, state officials and those building out broadband relying on broadband maps.

Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:

  • Kathryn de Wit, Project Director, The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Eric McRae, Associate Director, University of Georgia Institute of Government
  • Glenn Fishbine, Co-founder, Breaking Point Solutions, LLC
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Kathryn de Wit directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ broadband access initiative, which works to accelerate efforts to connect millions of Americans to affordable, reliable high-speed internet. Before joining Pew, de Wit was an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, where she focused on broadband deployment, organizational management, and public affairs. De Wit holds bachelor’s degrees in communications and sociology from Penn State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh.

Eric McRae is responsible for the Institute of Government’s Office of Information Technology Outreach Services (ITOS), which helps state and local governments incorporate into their operations a wide array of geographic information systems (GIS) technology, including parcel mapping, digitizing paper maps, and integrating transportation/addressing systems. He has managed multiple local, state, national, and international GIS projects and initiatives and has served on and chaired numerous GIS and information technology boards and committees, including the National States Geographic Information Council. Eric was integral in the development of the state of Georgia Broadband Map.

Glenn Fishbine has been involved with startup technologies for his entire career resulting in over a dozen U.S. patents. In 2011 he co-founded Breaking Point Solutions, LLC, a technology development company which later developed the GEO software for broadband mapping used in over a dozen states and rapid design studies performed for over 200 clients. The GEO Software is distributed by GEO Partners, LLC.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

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.

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