WASHINGTON, November 11, 2021 – A critical step to maximizing the Congress-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is crafting innovative mapping to pinpoint areas of focus for the billions of dollars in money going to broadband projects, experts hosted by Broadband Breakfast said Wednesday.
Following more than a decade of inefficient attempts from the Federal Communications Commission to map broadband needs nationally and continued lagging of current FCC mapping projects, individual states — Georgia has been one standout that is taking that initiative head-on — may need to create their own maps to meet timelines for funding allocated by the new bill. That’s despite FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel saying recently that she’s optimistic that the agency is developing the best wireless maps in the country, as the agency reels from errors made in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said during a Tuesday press conference about the infrastructure bill that the department will be working closely with the FCC’s mapping data.
Once the bill is signed into law, there will be a six-month period in which National Telecommunications and Information Administration can disburse the $42 billion it will get for broadband infrastructure based on need found through mapping efforts, said Public Knowledge’s director of government affairs Greg Guice during Wednesday’s panel discussion.
Under the bipartisan infrastructure bill, each state will receive $100 million in addition to further funding that is allocated based on the number of households in need present in the state.
Per Guice, some of the most useful maps for figuring out where funding is necessary will come from overlaying data such as metrics on internet speed and demographic information that covers income and ethnicity distributions in localities. Demographic information is especially important for addressing issues such as digital redlining, the perpetuation of already existing inequities among marginalized groups through digital technologies.
Steps in the right direction for effective mapping
Still, despite agreement between all the panelists that past mapping practices hinder effective broadband funding disbursement, the panel also lauded recent efforts to improve mapping practices.
Guice commended an FCC request for proposal that seeks to create a “robust” maps in terms of the information it can provide. Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, expressed hope about the impacts that crowdsourcing efforts could have in creating accurate broadband maps.
Steve Pastorkovich, senior director of broadband funding and development for the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative also hailed increased flexibility put in place for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund as helpful in mitigation of the problems that subpar mapping practices have created for fund disbursement.
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the November 10, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021, 12 Noon ET — Unpacking the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act
The passage of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act presents an unparalleled opportunity for advocates of Better Broadband, Better Lives. In this “breaking news” edition of Broadband Breakfast Live Online, officials from the broadband industry, including public interest advocates, will talk about the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, how they see the core provisions included within, and next steps for action in developing broadband projects.
Panelists for this Broadband Breakfast Live Online session:
- Greg Guice, Director of Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
- Gary Bolton, President and CEO, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA)
- Steve Pastorkovich, Senior Director, Broadband Funding & Development, NRTC
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
See House Passes Bipartisan Broadband Infrastructure Bill, But Without Reconciliation Measure, and Industry and Non-Profit Groups Offer Uniformly Positive Views of Broadband Bill’s Passage, Broadband Breakfast, November 6, 2021
Greg Guice is the Director of Public Knowledge’s Government Affairs team, where he focuses on outreach on the full complement of Public Knowledge’s issues and policy recommendations to promote broadband access and technological innovation. Greg has more than 20 years of experience working on legislative and regulatory issues affecting today’s technology market.
Gary Bolton serves as president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association — the largest trade association in the Americas dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. With more than three decades in the telecom industry, Bolton joined the Fiber Broadband Association as president and CEO in 2020 after serving on the association’s board as vice chairman, treasurer and vice chairs of public policy and marketing committees. Prior to taking the leadership role at the Fiber Broadband Association, he spent 11 years at ADTRAN serving as vice president of global marketing and government affairs.
Steve Pastorkovich is NRTC’s Senior Director, Broadband Funding & Development, and has advocated on behalf of rural broadband providers in the nation’s capital for over 20 years. He spearheaded NRTC’s funding initiatives, including work on the Rural Utilities Service’s ReConnect broadband loan and grant program, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction. Prior to NRTC, he spent 20 years working for rural telecommunications trade associations.
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.
- Statement of Gary Bolton of the Fiber Broadband Association.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
Broadband Breakfast Panelists Pitch Solutions for Finer Broadband Mapping Data
Experts argue for significant changes in order for broadband mapping efforts to be successful.
July 13, 2021—A federal mandate to get granular broadband data down to the doorstep would greatly speed up deployment, according to panelists on the latest Broadband Breakfast event last week.
Brian Webster, CEO of Wireless Mapping Inc., said on the panel the current Form 477 – which collects data on a broader census tract level to see which providers serve which areas – is not a great metric for measuring broadband coverage, and argued for better, higher-quality, and specific data.
That could be in the form of a federal mandate that would make 9-1-1 data public domain, he said on the July 7 event. This would allow other entities to determine specific buildings to better understand the layout of an area.
Webster pointed to New York as a state that had already done this and said that states that lock this data behind a paywall will continue to fall behind in their broadband deployment efforts. He said one of the great challenges is determining what kinds of buildings occupy a certain area; even if data accounts for a building, it may not distinguish a barn or a shed from an apartment or office building.
He also pointed to the U.S. national grid as an alternative to Form 477, where internet service providers would fill in their coverage areas down to the square meter across a blank grid representing the geography of the U.S., as opposed to simply using census blocks. He said that either of these approaches—or a combination of the two—would be an improvement on the current mapping models used by the FCC.
“[Form 477] gets to be problematic to use as a metric,” he said. “The problem is that it is one of those standardized things that everyone gravitates to.” Webster lauded the use of building data, such as those used in Costquests collection model, as it paints a more reliable picture the landscape that networks need to cover.
Problems with Form 477
The problems with Form 477, which relies on ISP data, have been documented going back years. Earlier this year, the FCC announced it has been working on improving its mapping by collating more granular data and unifying it, with participation from the industry, to help find missing connectivity spots.
The agency has been under fire since allegations emerged that it had used erroneous data from ISPs to provide snapshots of connectivity in rural America. The data, the 2019 allegation goes, was used by chairman Ajit Pai to ostensibly show that millions more Americans were connected to the federal speed standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload from 2016 to 2017. That was then corrected in a subsequent press release.
In March, a bipartisan-signed letter addressed to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called on the FCC to improve and update the existing maps.
Better data methods?
Mike Wilson, vice president of business development for data company CostQuest, argued why the existing data can be lacking and why his firm’s own data is more accurate.
On Wednesday’s live event, Wilson argued that CostQuest’s “Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric” has shown that some areas once believed to be served, according to the FCC 477 census data, are only partially served at best.
According to CostQuest’s data, when using the company’s algorithm, the number of unserved locations increased by almost five million when compared to FCC data.
“Think about how that [bad broadband data] impacts policy making, funding, and build-outs by state,” Wilson said. “What that means economically is that it is going to cost a lot more to serve these locations that are unserved.”
The impact of a vacillating definition of broadband
Brian Mefford, vice president of broadband strategy for Vetro Fiber, pointed to a potential pitfall, in that as efforts to shift the definition of broadband continue to grow, some areas that are currently considered served may drop off the map.
Currently, any network capable of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload is considered broadband. Some advocates and legislators believe that this definition is not aligned with how Americans currently use the internet and want broadband to be considered any network that is capable of 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
“This creates the need for states to play multi-leveled chess,” Mefford said. He explained that a situation like this could lead to a scramble to figure out who is served, who is now considered unserved, who is deserving of grant money, and how to attract new providers to supply broadband in the state.
Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the July 7, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “Broadband Mapping is Back!”
Before the conversation of broadband deployment can even begin, accurate broadband maps must exist. Without sufficient mapping data, broadband providers may invest in areas that already have ample coverage, or worse yet, they may overlook areas desperately in need of coverage. Join Broadband Breakfast for a deep dive into the work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that broadband build-outs are cost effective, future-proof, and able to meet the demands of the people they serve.
- Brian Mefford, Vice President of Broadband Strategy, Vetro Fiber
- Mike Wilson, Vice President of Business Development, Costquest
- Brian Webster, CEO, Wireless Mapping Inc.
- Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast
Brian Mefford joined VETRO with a wealth of experience helping to shape federal and state broadband programs and leading community broadband efforts in rural areas. Prior to VETRO, Brian founded Connected Nation, a nonprofit focused on enriching community broadband access. During his time at Connected Nation, Brian led the spin out of CNX, a platform for establishing public/private broadband network deployment partnerships that provided the nexus at which Brian first met and worked with the founders of VETRO to develop a 5G asset management solution. Brian has worked with government leaders at all levels to advance innovation, providing testimony regularly for state legislatures and the U.S. Congress and consulting with federal agencies including the FCC, NTIA, USDA and the State Department.
Mike Wilson, vice president of business development for Costquest, focuses his consulting efforts in the areas of rural telecommunications policy, universal service funding, interconnection, and operational analysis for wireless, competitive, and incumbent local carriers. Prior to joining CostQuest, he worked at Western Wireless/Alltel. He managed Wireless Interconnection, focusing on carrier negotiations and reducing Cost of Service for Alltel’s wireless business unit. Prior to Alltel’s merger with Western Wireless, his work was related to Universal Service Funding.
Brian Webster has been in the commercial wireless and broadband industry as an RF engineer and GIS/Mapping analyst for 31 years. For the past 19 years he has been a consultant where he worked on the National Broadband Map in the states of Illinois and New York. His broadband data analytics and mapping skills have been utilized by both governmental agencies and grant applications alike.
Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. In addition to representing public and private providers on broadband issues, Drew is actively involved in issues surrounding interconnected Voice-over-Internet-Protocol service, spectrum licenses, robocalling including STIR/SHAKEN, and the provision of video franchises and “over-the-top” copyrighted content.
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- Drew Clark: Broadband Maps Are a Mess, So Now Let’s Focus on Actually Improving Them
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
FCC Speed Test App To Improve Broadband Mapping, Agency Says
The agency hopes its new speed test will inform an initiative for more accurate broadband maps.
April 12, 2021 – As part of the Federal Communications Commission’s effort to collect comprehensive data on broadband availability across the United States, the agency is encouraging the public to download its Speed Test app, it announced Monday.
The FCC is using data collected from the app as part of the Measuring Broadband America program. The app provides a way for consumers to test the performance of their mobile and in-home broadband networks. In addition to showing network performance test results to the user, the app provides the test results to the FCC while protecting the privacy and confidentiality of program volunteers. It is available on the major app stores.
“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Expanding the base of consumers who use the FCC Speed Test app will enable us to provide improved coverage information to the public and add to the measurement tools we’re developing to show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.”
The network coverage and performance information gathered from the Speed Test data will help to inform the commission’s efforts to collect more accurate and granular broadband deployment data. The app will also be used in the future for consumers to challenge provider-submitted maps when the Broadband Data Collection systems become available.
The FCC has been working to improve its broadband mapping system from Form 477 for several years. Development of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system began in August 2019, and Rosenworcel created a task force in February 2021 to advance that system. On April 7, the agency announced May 7 as the date for establishing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.
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