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Broadband Mapping & Data

‘Not a Data Company’: LightBox Disappointed by Mapping Contract Denial

LightBox and CostQuest spoke to Broadband Breakfast after a decision to deny overturning the FCC’s mapping contract selection.

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Photo of LightBox CEO Eric Frank

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2022 – Data company LightBox said it is disappointed with a government watchdog decision to deny its appeal for a Federal Communications Commission mapping contract, saying the winning bidder does not own the rights to the data it will collect for the agency.

“CostQuest does not own the data,” LightBox CEO Eric Frank charged to Broadband Breakfast in an interview, following a decision by the Government Accountability Office last month to deny LightBox’s appeal challenging the FCC’s decision to award the contract to CostQuest.

“Light Box is a data company. Our customers [have been choosing our data for years] on a national basis to do a lot of things: understanding points of interest, understanding location data, understanding routing, understanding logistics, understanding geospatial information,” Frank said. “That is our business. The FCC awarded a project to a consulting firm, not a data company.”

The GAO, which released its decision on February 24, said it found nothing wrong with the FCC’s November decision to award the contract to CostQuest, which will build what is called the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric. The fabric, required by the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, will provide the basis for the newer, more accurate map on which the dispersal of billions of federal broadband infrastructure dollars is dependent.

LightBox’s objections to CostQuest’s contract alleged that CostQuest uses data that is licensed from third parties who themselves did not have the rights to license the data. The watchdog said in its decision it does not have reason to believe that the data will be used to infringe on the rights of the data owners, adding it would “not reevaluate proposals, nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency, as the evaluation of proposals is a matter within the agency’s discretion,” referencing the scope of its investigation.

“[We create a fabric] by collecting our own data, we draw our own building footprints from imagery and Lidar, and use our own address data,” Frank said in the interview. “That is how you create the fabric – we do that all in-house.

“At the end of the day, if you are going to buy a national fabric there is an element of due diligence – there is an element of trying to find out what organization has the best methodologies. We do not think that was served,” Frank added.

Despite the decision, LightBox, which is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, is still working on creating broadband fabrics at the state level. In January, Montana’s Department of Administration announced that it had hired LightBox to create a statewide broadband map. The map will use LightBox’s proprietary data to allocate $266 million to improve broadband service to unserved and underserved communities.

In December, the real estate analytics company also launched its own national smart location fabric, which it said provides a more granular view of areas where coverage does not exist. The company said it has licensed the fabric to Georgia and Alabama.

CostQuest continued work on fabric despite appeal

On the other side, CostQuest – despite saying it had been slowed down by the appeal filed shortly after the contract award in November – said it had been working on the fabric even as the LightBox appeal was in the air.

“Over the past few months, we’ve move from version 3 to version 4 of our commercial BSL data set,” Mike Wilson, CostQuest’s vice president of business development, said in an interview with Broadband Breakfast. “We also aligned all of our other models and data layers with the BSL’s and into a full broadband fabric data suite. This includes fiber and fixed wireless cost modeling, service availability estimation, (likelihood of locations being served by broadband technology type), demographics, and more.”

To do this, CostQuest said it will collect broadband data collection filings submitted by ISPs from around the country. The FCC set a start period of June 30 to collect that data and a deadline of September 1, 2022 by which ISPs can submit that data. The first version of CostQuest’s fabric is due within 120 of the contract’s approval.

“This fabric will provide the common basis upon which all parties will report on and understand coverage at the location level,” Wilson said. “There’s much work to be done, and accurate data will support more well-informed decisions regarding funding, buildout, and other initiatives related to closing the digital divide.”

Broadband Mapping & Data

62% of Americans Have Access to High-Speed 5G, Says New BroadbandNow Map

The company says its map is based on millions of M-Lab speed tests conducted over a six-month period.

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Photo of John Busby, the managing director of BroadbandNow

September 23, 2022 – Roughly 62 percent of Americans can receive access to high-speed 5G wireless coverage at home, according to a newly released map from the research and aggregator BroadbandNow.

Released on September 12, the map of the nation’s high-speed 5G coverage shows that 206.4 million Americans are able to receive such wireless coverage at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or more on download speeds.

The map – based upon actual speed results –shows performance data by provider in all ZIP codes in which high-speed 5G is available. BroadbandNow simplifies the geography to include the entire ZIP code in which a speed result is found. The map’s data includes average speed, top speed, packet loss, and speed-test sample size.

The company says its map is based on millions of M-Lab speed tests conducted over a six-month period.

The map shows dense areas of high-speed 5G coverage in much of the South, the Great Lakes region, the southern Great-Plains states, and the West Coast. High-speed coverage is sparser in the Dakotas, the Rocky Mountain region, the Southwest, and a few outlier states such as Maine and West Virginia.

Advertised speeds vs. experienced speeds

BroadbandNow’s website notes the 5G map’s speed-tested data differs from other BroadbandNow data that is based on providers responses to the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477, which shows the speeds providers claim to offer.

Indeed, the commonly occurring differences between providers’ advertised broadband speeds and users’ experienced broadband speeds frequently are currently a hot topic among experts in the telecommunications space.

“We’re trying to ask a different question, which is what’s available in an area as opposed to what people are actually subscribing to,” said Bryan Darr, vice president of smart communities for Ookla, at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Ookla’s speed-test data shows suggests many areas that should have high-speed coverage – based on providers’ Form 477 reporting – do not, said Darr. In Colorado, for instance, Ookla data showed that speeds of less than 25 Mbps were consistently reported in certain areas in which CenturyLink claimed to offer fiber coverage.

“Clearly there’s questions to be asked here,” said Darr. “Why is no one here seeing an increase in speed?”

BroadbandNow is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Panelists at Broadband Breakfast Event Urge the FCC Mapping Fabric Be Made Public

They objected to being required to help build CostQuest’s database, but are unable to utilize database for their own benefit.

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Screenshot of Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s policy to withhold broadband mapping data from the general public is unjustifiable, panelists said during a panel at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Screenshot of Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

The FCC’s “fabric,” constructed by partner CostQuest Associates, is a dataset that identifies all locations nationwide and in U.S. territories at which “fixed broadband internet access service has been or could be installed.”

It is planned to be the basis for the FCC’s new broadband map and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s allocation of $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program funding to the states.

The FCC will accept challenges to the fabric’s accuracy on a rolling basis, the agency has said, adding that corrections will be made to it. And while a preliminary version of the fabric was released to state, local, and tribal governments, providers, and other entities earlier this year, it remains unavailable to the general public.

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

“It’s hard to think of a legitimate reason for excluding third parties from the fabric at this point,” said Scott Wallsten, president of the Technology Policy Institute. The institute is one such third party that would like access to the fabric, Wallsten said.

And while certain aggregations might be necessary to protect ISPs’ and other entities’ proprietary data, Wallsten argued that access to the fabric’s information could greatly benefit a range of industry entities. Wallsten said the creation of an accurate location-by-location map necessitates the juxtaposition and integration of many different datasets, “require[ing] lots and lots of transparency.”

The FCC imposed limitations on how the fabric can be used, even by those granted access, said Dustin Loup, project manager of the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition.

“The licenses that are used to gain access to the fabric essentially say that you can use the fabric for reporting into the broadband data collection program or challenging the accuracy of the fabric. Withholding the fabric from the general public precludes non-approved entities from verifying the accuracy of the fabric’s data,” he added.

Licensing agreement between CostQuest and FCC impacts public

While CostQuest owns the initial fabric data, data generated from the challenge process is the FCC’s. Pursuant to the contractual agreement between the two, however, the challenge data is leased to CostQuest and may be used in the company’s commercial products.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims on September 14 released an opinion dismissing a challenge to the FCC’s contract with CostQuest.

Loup objected to communities being “required to help build CostQuest’s database” but being unable to utilize that database for their own benefit. He attributed that result to the FCC’s strict usage restrictions unless the third party were to purchase CostQuest’s commercial mapping products.

Wallsten also questioned why the FCC’s has control over broadband mapping in the first place. He said other federal agencies, including a suggestion that the United States Geological Survey step in, have relevant expertise and are more disinterested in broadband-policy fights than is the FCC.

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, September 21, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Broadband Mapping and Data

Much hinges on the success or failure of the Federal Communications Commissions’ updated broadband maps. This fall the agency is entering into a period of intensive updating in which it is assessing an address-level “fabric” of locations and comparing internet service data received from providers. Now comes the hard part: Providing a framework for broadband users and providers to understand and challenge the FCC’s map. The future of the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act depends upon it.

Panelists:

  • Scott Wallsten, President, Technology Policy Institute
  • Bryan Darr, Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla
  • Dustin Loup, Program Manager, Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

Bryan Darr is the Vice President of Smart Communities at Ookla. He coordinates Ookla’s outreach to local, state and federal governments and serves on CTIA’s Smart Cities Business & Technology Working Group.

Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute and also a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. He is an economist with expertise in industrial organization and public policy, and his research focuses on competition, regulation, telecommunications, the economics of digitization, and technology policy. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

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.

White House photo from August 2021 by Adam Schultz

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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

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Federal Court Denies Challenge to FCC Selection of CostQuest as Mapping Contractor

A federal judge ruled that CostQuest made no misrepresentations in its bid for the FCC mapping contract.

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Screenshot of CostQuest CEO James Stegeman from a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event last year.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 – A federal court on September 14 released its order denying a challenge by mapping company LightBox that alleged CostQuest Associates, which was contracted by the Federal Communications Commission to develop its broadband map, misrepresented certain terms in its licensing agreement with a third-party.

The decision, by the U.S. Court of Federal Claim, was rendered on August 26, but withheld to give the various parties — CostQuest, LightBox, and the government – an opportunity to redact segments. The opinion is replete with segments in which “. . .” replaces the substance of Judge Edward Meyers’ order.

Don’t miss the Broadband Mapping Masterclass! You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99. Enroll TODAY in this LIVE Masterclass on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET

LightBox was in the running for the FCC contract, and alleged in its April application to the court that CostQuest’s contract proposal to the commission misrepresented the terms of its licensing agreement with third-party Black Knight, including by allegedly omitting provisos and misrepresenting certain parcel boundary data.  

Meyers found that CostQuest made no such “material misrepresentation” and dismissed LightBox’s motion for relief. The court withheld the release of the judgment until last week to allow the parties to offer redactions to the public version of the decision.

Meyers did not provide reasons within his opinion for the extensive redactions within the ruling.

In a statement issued Wednesday on the court’s ruling, CostQuest CEO James Stegeman said, “I am glad that now we can put our full time and energy into further developing this data set and doing our part in what we came here to do – help provide the critical information that will help identify where broadband is (and is not) available so that parties can focus on connecting millions of Americans to the broadband service they need and close the digital divide.”

The FCC approved CostQuest’s proposal in November. In February, LightBox lost an appeal to the Government Accountability Office, which dismissed the complaint saying the office lacks jurisdiction over “a dispute over the terms of a private agreement between private parties.”  

Speaking to Broadband Breakfast earlier this year, LightBox CEO Eric Frank called CostQuest a “consulting company, not a data firm.”

“[We create a fabric] by collecting our own data, we draw our own building footprints from imagery and Lidar, and use our own address data,” Frank said. “That is how you create the fabric – we do that all in-house.

“At the end of the day, if you are going to buy a national fabric there is an element of due diligence – there is an element of trying to find out what organization has the best methodologies. We do not think that was served,” Frank added.

The importance of FCC and CostQuest’s mapping

The map completed by the two entities will determine each state’s allotment of the $42.5 billion in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, which was created out of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

The FCC established a challenge process for its new map, by which state, local, and tribal governments, service providers, and other entities can present evidence to correct flaws in the agency’s data.

Michael Romano, the executive vice president of rural broadband trade group NTCA, argued Wednesday at a web event that for all the early-stage difficulties faced by the FCC and CostQuest, the long-term result of their efforts will likely be the most accurate federal broadband map to date.

LightBox is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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