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Sinema Policy Advisor Says Infrastructure Bill’s Broadband Promise Balances Partisan Interests

And experts weigh in on the benefits of crowdsourcing data for better broadband maps.

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Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

WASHINGTON, October 27, 2021 —  Ahead of a Halloween deadline for the House to vote on the infrastructure bill, the policy staff person of Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, said he thinks the infrastructure bill’s broadband provisions balance competing interests between progressive and moderate Democrats, who disagree on the bill’s details.

“I think it’s a strong bill,” said Sinema’s policy advisor Chris Leuchten. Leucheten, who spoke in his personal capacity at a broadband infrastructure panel with the Federal Communications Bar Association on October 13, avoided saying whether Sinema would approve of the bill but said “balancing competing interests is important.”

Leucheten added that Arizona has 22 federally recognized tribes and that expanding broadband has been difficult for the state due to a lack of funding. Focusing on ensuring funding for tribal lands in Arizona “is a key piece for us,” Leuchten said. The bill includes $65 billion for broadband.

The House is expected to vote on the bipartisan bill on October 31, 2021.

Bipartisanship led to passage in the Senate

Tech advocates are eager for the broadband infrastructure bill to pass the House. Leuchten said he wants a positive outcome after his team’s hard work to build relationships in the Senate to get enough votes. “It took months on multiple levels of [Senate] staff to get it done in order to reach a bipartisan agreement here and have some honest discussions to put together a framework to the bill.”

Alexandrine de Bianchi, senior legislative assistant to Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, said that her working bipartisan group “worked off a few bills to provide a foundation for the broadband section of the bill.” Previous broadband bills were “cobbled together” in order to get to finalized bill.

FCC should crowdsource data for better broadband maps

Panelists also discussed broadband mapping as a fundamental challenge to allocating the bill’s funding and suggested crowdsourced mapping to gather more data. “[The] maps are foundational to everything we have to do,” said Trey Hanbury, partner at Hogan Lovells. “The job is to direct funding to where it is needed.”

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said during a symposium Friday that she is optimistic about the agency’s latest efforts at mapping and said crowdsourcing methods have proven to be highly effective.

The idea of crowdsourcing broadband coverage data reflects a shift in the broadband mapping philosophy by moving away from the FCC’s historical data collection methods.

“The FCC form 477 established in 2000 was the traditional way to collect mapping data,” said Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the Wireline Competition Bureau. “[But we] had no view into what was happening on the census block level. To address the shortcomings in form 477, the 2020 Broadband Data Act created requirements for data collection that would address problems with the old form,” referring to the challenge process that allows others to challenge the FCC’s own information.

Advocates for crowdsourced broadband mapping believe that the public can make the FCC’s maps more accurate. Bryan Darr, vice president of smart communities at Ookla, said that the benefits of this method make crowdsourcing a long-term solution to mapping issues.

According to Darr, the volume of data captured is “exponential” relative to other efforts. He said there will be fewer spikes and troughs in data collection because of a loyal user base. The diversity of the users would “capture the many ways people use the internet” Darr said.

Additionally, years of data will allow for greater measuring of progress over time and strengthen the credibility of coverage targets. Combining the source of the data gives stakeholders a better idea of the digital divide than individual data sets themselves, said Jennifer Alvarez, CEO of Aurora Insight.

“The public needs to have a say [in mapping broadband]. Using these capabilities allowing people to report needs to be taken into account and part of what should be understood about broadband mapping. We’ve got to do it quicker than we have been doing it historically” said Darr.

Broadband experts agree that compiling and aggregating mapping data will produce a better picture of underserved and unserved communities.

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Broadband Mapping

FCC Opens Broadband Data Collection Program

The data will go toward improved maps, which the FCC chair said will be available by the fall.

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Screenshot of Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday officially opened its new system to collect broadband service information from over 2500 broadband providers.

The Broadband Data Collection “marks the beginning of [the FCC’s] window to collect location-by-location data from providers that we will use to build the map,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.

Screenshot of Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox

Broadband providers will be required to provide availability claims and supporting data. Supporting data will include sections such as “propagation modeling information” and “link budget information.” The deadline to submit is September 1.

Rosenworcel said the agency has established consistent parameters that require broadband providers to submit data using geocoded locations that will “allow [the FCC] to create a highly precise picture of fixed broadband deployment, unlike previous data collections, which focused on census blocks, giving us inaccurate, incomplete maps.”

With this information, the FCC will build a common dataset of locations in the United States where fixed broadband service can be installed, called the “fabric.” Rosenworcel said that this fabric will serve as a “foundation upon which all fixed broadband availability data will be reported and overlaid in our new broadband availability maps.”

Following the completion of the maps, government entities and internet service providers will be given a challenge window where availability claims may be challenged based on submitted data.

Rosenworcel previously said that the improved broadband maps will be available by the fall.

States expect to be busy fact-checking these claims as they are released, said panelists at Broadband Breakfast Live Online Event Wednesday. States will be involved in individual challenging processes and will be expected to provide information on availability through individual speed testing.

States want to get these maps right because they serve as a broadband investment decision making tool, said Bill Price, vice president of government solutions for LightBox, a data platform that is helping states build broadband maps. That means many states are committed to obtaining accurate local coverage data to utilize federal and state funding.

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 29, 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.

Panelists:

  • Bill Price, Vice President, Government Solutions, LightBox
  • Dustin Loup, Program Manager, Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition
  • Ryan Guthrie, Vice President of Solutions Engineering at ATS
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Bill Price, Vice President of Government Solutions, is responsible for LightBox broadband data and mapping solutions for government. Bill has more than 40 years in telecommunications and technology services development and operations. His track record includes delivering the Georgia statewide location level broadband map, the first fiber metropolitan area network in the U.S., and launching BellSouth’s internet service. LightBox combines proven, leading GIS and big data technology to transform how decisions are made in broadband infrastructure planning and investment.

Dustin Loup is an expert on internet governance and policy and program manager for the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition. Much of his work centers on improving digital inclusion and establishing transparent, open-source, and openly verifiable mapping methodologies and standards.

Ryan Guthrie is VP of Solutions Engineering at Advanced Technologies & Services.  He started with ATS in 2006 and has been involved in all aspects of the business from sales and marketing through solution design and implementation.  Ryan also manages regulatory solutions for ATS and has been deeply involved with the federally funded broadband projects by assisting ISPs with their performance measures testing compliance.

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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FCC

FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.

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Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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Infrastructure

States Must Ease Zoning, Permit Regulations for Broadband Buildouts

‘You have to take a serious look at red tape.’

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Screenshot of Heather Gold , Carolyn Price, Shane Butler and Bob Knight (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – States must ease regulations surrounding local building permits and zoning that may prevent internet service providers from building broadband infrastructure, said experts in community and stakeholder engagement at a Rural Broadband Conference on Tuesday.

“If you want to attract private industry or want to bring fiber to your community, you have to take a serious look at red tape,” said Bob Knight, CEO of marketing firm Harrison Edwards Strategic Communications.

“Let’s be realistic,” Knight continued. “We are operating at a time where private investment can go anywhere, we are operating at a time where materials are scarce… now is not the time to mess around and slow up the process [through regulations.]”

The Upstate New York Town Association, a group dedicated to serving the needs of upstate New York communities, indicated that it would continue to lobby for an easing of state regulations to support broadband connectivity in its region.

Knight encouraged states to engage with stakeholders and local community members to make the process easier and build networks in a timely fashion. “Get as many [local] voices as you can.”

Communities in Upstate New York worked with local engineers to develop broadband models that work for their topography. Understanding the local geography proved beneficial in building out networks that connect to all community members, said Carolyn Price, executive director of the Upstate Association.

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