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Broadband Mapping & Data

How Five States Tackled Broadband Expansion During the Pandemic

Broadband Breakfast revisits what some state legislatures did to narrow broadband gaps.

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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

August 31, 2021–The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the existing digital divide that exists across the country.

Both on the state and federal levels, lawmakers have come together in acts of bipartisanship to pass legislation with historic levels of funding and resources to improve digital literacy, narrow the “homework gap”, and build affordable broadband infrastructure in locations often overlooked in the past.

In fact, some states have passed legislation during the pandemic to approve a broadband office, bringing all 50 states to have created either a task force, commission, or authority to coordinate broadband expansion.

As the country awaits the House’s return in September, on which it will decide what it will do with the $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill, Broadband Breakfast looks back at what five states have done to bridge the digital divide.

Ohio

In June, the House proposed a $190 million budget granted toward expanding residential broadband across the state of Ohio.

In the spring, the state took steps to connect the more hard-to-reach homes by providing $20 million for the new Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program, known as H.B. 2. The allocated money funded projects that providers consider unjustifiable from a business perspective.

This summers’ House version of the budget included another $190 million, but Senate Republicans excluded that funding in their proposal. The final budget agreement “axed a proposal to limit local governments from offering broadband services,” the Columbus Dispatch wrote.

In June, during deliberations over the budget, the Ohio Senate approved a version with language that would have forced existing municipal broadband services to shut down and prevented the formation of new public networks.

Under that language, many of the municipal broadband programs in cities such as Fairlawn, Hudson, Medina, and Wadsworth would not be allowed to operate if a private-sector company operate in the area. This could have been damaging to municipalities from being able to accept federal funding for the purpose of starting a broadband program.

Under H.B. 110, the state budget bill was signed into law by Governor Mike Dewine on June 30, and took effect on July 1. The final version of the bill determined that the residential broadband expansion grant program will receive a total of $250 million: $210 million in fiscal 2022 and $30 million in fiscal 2023. The final language in the budget bill also stripped out the Senate’s proposed limits on existing and future municipal networks.

North Carolina

In mid-May, the North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously approved a $750 million broadband expansion fund known as House Bill 947, just days after Governor Roy Cooper announced $1.2 billion in federal relief dedicated to closing the state’s digital divide.

The governor has said broadband access is a priority for his administration and announced in July the creation of a new office of Digital Equity and Literacy, a first for North Carolina and the first in the nation. This program is part of the newly created Division of Broadband and Digital Equity within the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT), to spearhead Cooper’s plan in American Rescue Plan funds to close the digital divide in the state by 2025.

HB 947, also known as the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology — or G.R.E.A.T. Broadband Expansion Act — appropriates $350 million from the state’s fiscal recovery fund to the existing G.R.E.A.T. program, which was established in 2018 to fund broadband infrastructure construction. The bill also clarifies that $400 million will be set aside from federal stimulus funding in a future bill to create another grant program, called the Completing Access to Broadband Grant program.

Texas

Governor Greg Abbott said broadband access is one of his priority items for the Texas’ legislative session this year.

On July 13th, the Governor signed House Bill 5, which aims to provide and an expansion of broadband services to certain areas. A large portion of the Texas Broadband Bill includes the creation of a broadband development office. This was one of the few pieces of legislation that passed with strong bipartisan support in the highly partisan legislature. The bill received unanimous legislative committee support from the beginning.

Co-author of the bill and Republican Representative Hugh Shine said in an announcement in March: “I don’t think the ‘work-from-home’ mentality is going away as the pandemic comes to an end. Businesses no longer have to relocate to a major city, and employees don’t have to work in an office for many businesses. It is important for our economy across Texas that we have access.”

The new broadband development office plans to provide a comprehensive solution to broadband access for the lack of connectivity among millions of Texans. The program has announced a mission to providing long-term solutions to complex challenges including educating rural communities in digital literacy, keeping services affordable, and implementing the new 5G standard.

Virginia

Governor Ralph Northam announced in July he wants to spend $700 million of Virginia’s federal relief funding on expanding broadband access to all of Virginia.

The general assembly and Northam have agreed to provide $50 million in 2020 and an additional $50 million in 2021 to the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, a public-private partnership to extend broadband service to areas currently without internet providers.

This month, the Virginia General Assembly convened in Richmond for a special session to allocate the federal funding, which was expected to last around two weeks with broadband being a key priority for state senators.

California

In July, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 156 to advance the state’s commitment to bridging the digital divide by increasing equitable, affordable access to high-speed internet service across California.

The $6 billion investment is a part of the comprehensive California Comeback Plan, a plan of recovery following the pandemic, and intends to expand broadband infrastructure and enhance internet access. The funding is divided to conquer the digital divide by giving $3.25 billion to build, operate and maintain an open access and state-owned middle mile network – high-capacity fiber lines that carry large amounts of data at higher speeds over longer distances between local networks.

Two billion dollars will be allocated to set up last-mile broadband connections that will connect homes and businesses with local networks. The legislation expedites project deployment and enables Tribes and local governments to access this funding. Lastly, $750 million is allocated toward the state’s new “Loan Loss Reserve” program to bolster the ability of county governments and municipalities to issue broadband bonds to finance their own fiber.

This bill is unlike any other legislation that California has previously passed in its effort to close the divide because it does not include the involvement of private companies such as AT&T, Frontier Communications, Comcast, and Charter.

“This is an essential first step towards reaching near-universal fiber access because it was never ever going to happen through the large private ISPs who are tethered to fast profits and short term investor expectations that prevent them from pursuing universal fiber access. What the state needed was to empower local partners in the communities themselves who will take on the long-term infrastructure challenge,” said Ernesto Falcon, a senior legislative council at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“This broadband package is historic. It transcends politics, and it will be a legacy project that will benefit generations of rural and urban residents alike,” said Newsom in a press release last month. “This legislation will yield vital, broadened access for California families by prioritizing the unserved and underserved areas, facilities, households, and businesses that remain disconnected in the digital era.”

Broadband Mapping & Data

Jeremy Jurick and Paul Schneid: Preparing Data for the FCC’s Broadband Filing

The new FCC requirements in the broadband data collection program are important to meet the nation’s connectivity goals.

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The authors of this Expert Opinion are Jeremy Jurick (left) and Paul Schneid of Michael Baker International.

The recent emphasis on the expansion of broadband access across the country, coupled with the requirements of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Broadband Equity and Deployment program, has prompted the Federal Communications Commission to review and update its collection of data. Accurate data pinpointing where broadband service is – and is not – available is critically important. Broadband maps are used by Internet Service Providers and governments to identify locations that need service, as well as how to fund broadband expansion.

The FCC has recently established an important initiative called the Broadband Data Collection Program to ensure the collection of accurate, vital broadband availability data, implementing new requirements. Among other requirements of the BDC, ISPs must submit their serviceable location data and align that data with the FCC’s serviceable location fabric, which will require new methodologies from ISPs, resulting in additional hours spent and more resources allocated to address this upcoming task.

At Michael Baker International, our team is at the forefront of data collection and broadband expansion services. This article provides details on the requirement and filing process for ISPs.

Recognizing the challenges

The BDC filing process may be unfamiliar and challenging to some service providers due to the novelty of the program and the list of requirements it encompasses. Moreover, ISPs may be delayed in the processing and submission of their data, either due to limited resources or bandwidth to support these new tasks and responsibilities or experience to immediately and effectively tackle and complete this complex data collection/submittal process. With the extent of the data expected to be collected and submitted, which involves technical elements and resources, proceeding may seem daunting. Sifting through newly published materials and resources takes away valuable time and issues can arise before or after submittal with incomplete data or the ability to process the data into the appropriate standards, recently specified for fabric comparison by the FCC.

Getting started according to the timeline

To begin the BDC Filing process, ISPs should first become familiar with the timeline, federal regulations and data requirements surrounding the submission period.

Due to be submitted for the first time on September 1, 2022, and semi-annually going forward, specific data must be provided by all facilities-based providers of fixed and mobile broadband internet access who had one or more end user connections in service on June 30, 2022. Each filing will be based on the same schedule as the Form 477 filings (June 30th through September 1st and December 31st through March 1st).

Fulfilling the prerequisites ad the data requirements

As prerequisite to filing data in the BDC portal, the FCC requires ISPs or government entities to first complete the registration process within the FCC’s Commission Registrations System (CORES). Users will be assigned a 10-digit FCC Registration Number that will be used for verification purposes by the FCC.  Additionally, filers are also required by the FCC to show proof that they are indeed an organization that is responsible for tracking broadband coverage.  Each filer must provide documentation from the highest-ranking executive within their company confirming that the organization tracks broadband data.

Each BDC filing must include detailed information about the filer, broadband availability data (including supporting data) and Form 477 broadband subscription data. In addition, specific requirements are mandated for various ISPs:

  • Fixed wireline and satellite broadband service providers: Submit either polygon shapefiles or a list of locations constituting the provider’s service area.
  • Fixed wireless broadband service providers: Submit either propagation maps and propagation model details or a list of locations constituting the provider’s service area.
  • Mobile wireless broadband service providers: Submit propagation maps and propagation model details for each network technology, as well as for both outdoor stationary and in-vehicle mobile network coverage. Additionally, these ISPs must submit data for their signal strength heat map.

Finalizing for submission

Finally, ISPs must gain access to the serviceable location fabric, format the data to requirements for accurate comparison against the fabric and identify the addresses that meet requirements of serviceable areas. When the necessary data has been compiled and reviewed, the filing entity must navigate to the BDC system and submit its data onward to the FCC. The FCC gives the option to file submit data as an upload/web-based file or alternatively submit using an Application Programming Interface.

Partnering with a broadband expert

It is recommended that ISPs looking to both save time and ensure accuracy throughout the submission process partner with broadband experts that will ensure that all BDC requirements are met before submitting any data. Michael Baker International has thoroughly researched the BDC requirements and created a streamlined solution. ISPs simply provide the initial information, and our team then determines the appropriate data to be submitted, along with our translation of that data into the proper format. Once ISPs receive the data, they need only create a login and finally, upload the submission data.

Today, there is increased focus on an existing but growing need to close gaps in the digital divide. The new FCC requirements in the BDC program are an important part of ensuring the nation’s connectivity goals are met by collecting accurate data that will be necessary to provide services where they are most needed.

Jeremy Jurick is Michael Baker’s National Broadband Services Director and oversees Michael Baker International’s broadband planning, mapping and program management initiatives. His broadband experience includes roadmap development, planning, data collection and analysis, stakeholder engagement, broadband provider engagement, branding, multimedia design, GIS services, and software design, and he has provided testimony during several government hearings to inform policymakers on broadband policy and expansion, including advocating for high speed thresholds for the definition of broadband and allowing government entities to be eligible subgrantees for broadband funding.

Paul Schneid is a program manager at Michael Baker with nearly a decade of experience in broadband wireless equipment operation, customer service, and process improvement. Most recently, Schneid interfaced with vendors and clients to manage all implementation project phases from inception to completion across a citywide wireless broadband expansion in New York City. This piece 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 expressed 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 are Making Their Own Broadband Maps to Challenge the FCC’s Data

With FCC maps promised soon, some states are preparing to possibly challenge them by making their own.

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Photo of United States flags on the Avenue of Flags at Mount Rushmore from the National Park Service

WASHINGTON, August 8, 2022 – Some states are preparing their own broadband availability maps in preparation to challenge any deficiencies in the Federal Communications Commission’s own maps, according to state officials Broadband Breakfast spoke to, which could mean the difference between more or less funding.

The FCC’s new map, which is expected by this fall and will help federal programs deliver billions in funding to underserved and unserved areas, will include a challenge process where broadband providers, and communities will be able to challenge broadband availability claims by submitting evidence to the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection system.

Many states are preparing for this challenge process now by establishing their own state broadband maps, according to people this publication spoke to. William Price of location data and service company LightBox said that “states that have invested in developing their own fabric and their own ISP data collection for those locations will be in a position to pose a credible challenge [to the FCC’s maps].”

FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program

If states have not developed their own location level mapping, they will have no basis to evaluate if federal funding allocations are appropriate and no way to advocate for additional funds, said Price, whose LightBox has agreements with some states to develop their own maps. (LightBox is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.)

B.J. Tanksley of Missouri’s Office of Broadband Development said in an interview that the state is “hopeful that its maps will be useful in challenging the FCC’s maps… we believe our maps will allow us to challenge, when necessary, to improve the accuracy for Missouri.”

Tanksley added that there are sure to be many states looking to strengthen their maps prior to the FCC process, which will lead to a demand in this area.

Indeed, Utah is following the trend. Rebecca Dilg of the Utah Broadband Center told Broadband Breakfast that state maps are necessary to compare to FCC maps. Dilg expects that Utah’s state map will prove useful to challenge location-level coverage claims in the cases of multi-dwelling buildings where federal maps would claim a location is served without considering multi-tenant living situations.

Utah’s Broadband Maps Are Ready for Federal Funding, Broadband Director Says

Preparing for the challenge process is an “important investment of time,” Dilg said.

Florida, which has developed a broadband internet speed test to populate its map, said in a statement to Broadband Breakfast that any location level map that Florida may create should supplement the yet-to-be released FCC maps.

The road to better maps

Previous broadband availability maps provided by the FCC faced longstanding criticism from industry stakeholders, members of Congress, and the FCC itself because of its overreliance on the Form 477 method, which relied largely on data from internet service providers.

Those maps relied on data on speed tests, surveys, and data at the census block level, which meant an entire block was considered covered if just one address within that block received adequate connectivity.

In order to improve the mapping situation and ensure that the $42.5 billion in new funds from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act funds are allocated to areas in need, Congress passed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act in 2020.

Drew Clark: Broadband Maps Are a Mess, So Now Let’s Focus on Actually Improving Them

A few states have undertaken the location-level methodology that precisely maps the availability of broadband services to every address in the state, said Price. Some of these states have contracted with LightBox.

Other states are choosing to collect broadband availability data through speed tests and surveys to approximate where broadband services are and are not. These types of maps are not as accurate as address location-level maps, said Price.

Price said it looks like over 30 states may be forgoing creating their own maps and are choosing to accept the results of the FCC maps.

Possible problems facing state-level maps

Obtaining ISP support and cooperation has proven to be difficult for state officials, according to some. Clay Purvis of Vermont’s Community Broadband Board indicated to Broadband Breakfast that carriers do not always provide complete reports of service areas. Dilg of Utah agreed, adding that it is a challenge getting ISPs to participate in updating maps, which Utah does on a semi-annual basis.

Furthermore, Vermont is concerned that the FCC will not accept data from its drive-test data during the challenge process.

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Broadband Mapping

Utah’s Broadband Maps Are Ready for Federal Funding, Broadband Director Says

‘The efforts that have been done in the past have been a great foundation.’

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SALT LAKE CITY, July 13, 2022 – Utah’s work on its own broadband availability maps means it is prepared for billions in federal funds coming from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, said the state’s broadband director at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

“The efforts that have been done in the past have been a great foundation,” said Rebecca Dilg, director of the Utah Broadband Center, the state’s broadband office.

Utah’s decade-old broadband availability maps are updated every six months and Dilg said they provide a foundation for upcoming money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, the $42.5-billion initiative from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Utah counties work with the state broadband office to continually update a layer on the map that shows individual addresses, added Kelleigh Cole, director of strategic initiatives at the Utah Education Network, a state research network. This layer allows the broadband office to see whether broadband access extends to specific addresses.

Mapping data, said Dilg, prepares the state broadband office to address “doughnut holes” where urban centers receive high-speed coverage, but surrounding areas do not. The BEAD program requires that unserved residents are served first, but Utah’s broadband office is optimistic that the funds will reach into underserved areas, including cities where antiquated technology, like digital subscriber lines, are primarily used.

The Federal Communications Commission assured that its nationwide broadband coverage maps will be available by the fall. The Broadband Data Collection portal on the FCC website is currently open for internet providers and governments to submit coverage data.

Utah is home to the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber, West Valley City, which is also the largest U.S. city connected via an open access network.

Screenshot of Rebecca Dilg, director of the Utah Broadband Center.

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