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Montana Mapping Official: Treasury Deadline for ARPA Fund Disbursement Probably Too Soon

Montana’s chief data officer believes 2026 is too early for state mapping to be completed and funding requests submitted.

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Photo of Chad Rupe by U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

April 13, 2022 – Montana’s chief data officer on Tuesday cast doubt about whether all needed American Rescue Plan Act funds will be able to get distributed by the Department of Treasury’s 2026 deadline.

State officer Adam Carpenter says that from what he sees, states around the nation will need more time to map broadband access for their residents and place funding requests with the federal government under ARPA.

Speaking at an event hosted by LightBox, the information and technology platform constructing Montana’s ConnectMT state broadband map, on Montana’s state broadband program implementation, Carpenter said he is “very worried” that not all funds necessary for broadband infrastructure upgrades will be able to be received from the Treasury by its 2026 deadline.

“I think at this point that the Treasury’s probably gonna have to extend that deadline,” said Carpenter.

He stated that only five states have started the process of mapping access and collecting that mapping data for ARPA fund application as Montana has, and that Montana is “well ahead” of all of them.

Tuesday’s LightBox program highlighted several challenges that state broadband offices like Montana’s face and that other state’s broadband offices should make note of for their infrastructure build efforts.

Montana’s broadband program officer Chad Rupe stated that state offices are relatively new to broadband fund deployment and thus that careful attention must be paid to setting up a strong state broadband program. Hiring office staff who are experienced with broadband was also emphasized throughout the program.

Carpenter explained that extensive planning is needed for broadband programs so that crews do not plan to build broadband projects where internet providers may already be working on infrastructure, and Rupe added that care must also be taken not to overbuild infrastructure in areas where congressional action did not intend it.

According to Rupe, from what he has seen in Montana’s planning it is very possible that supply chain issues can delay infrastructure project builds.

Bill Price, LightBox’s vice president of government solutions, stated that LightBox will be assisting with a webinar to educate other states through demonstration on how they can use internet access mapping to pursue broadband infrastructure projects. Price said LightBox plans on reaching out to states within 30 days to plan its education efforts.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Garland McCoy: How Your State Can Defend Its Broadband Maps for Maximum Funds

Crowdsourced and bulk data are subject to a challenge process that has successfully eliminated crowdsourced data in the past.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Garland McCoy, Co-Founder and Executive Director of PAgCASA

On September 15, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Data Task Force issued a public notice on “Specifications for Bulk Fixed Availability Challenge and Crowdsource Data.”

The notice provided guidance for filing bulk challenges, and bulk crowdsource data, to fixed broadband availability data that will be published later this year by the FCC as part of its new Broadband Data Collection. According to the notice, “individuals and entities, including consumers, state, local, and Tribal governmental entities, and service providers,” can submit challenges to the BDC fixed broadband availability data for single locations, as well as “bulk” challenges with respect to multiple locations.

Historically, Internet Service Providers have effectively used the FCC’s challenge process to disqualify the vast majority of disputes brought forward by states, counties, and other complainants regarding FCC’s broadband maps. And frankly, this will be the case again unless states take a new tack to validate their own data in such a way that will stand up to ISP challenges. Given the enormity of the federal broadband funds available to states this time around, the stakes could not be higher; that is, a single state could forgo hundreds of millions of dollars of federal broadband funds due to insufficient preparation to challenge-proof its data.

Here are two observations to start:  1) The ISPs are correct in challenging the data if the data is corrupted or incapable of being validated, and therefore should be disqualified. 2) the FCC and the ISPs must now be seen as embracing the new “crowdsourcing” challenge process since the Broadband Data Act of 2020 was very specific in requiring that the FCC’s new data gathering methodology include third-party crowdsourced data. That said, third-party “crowdsourced” and “bulk” data are subject to the same challenge process that has successfully eliminated individual and crowdsourced data in the past.

Three ways ISPs successfully challenge and disqualify third-party data

Alone, or in combination, the following three scenarios have succeeded year after year in ensuring that third-party data, crowdsourced or otherwise, has not made it past the challenge process and onto the FCC’s approved maps.

  • Was the speed test launched from a device wirelessly? Modern modems set up a Wireless Area Network around the premises over the one or two Wi-Fi channels allocated. Almost all devices are now connected wirelessly to the modem. A wireless launch of a speed test, e.g., from your laptop or smart phone, therefore affects/corrupts the network speed test and disqualifies the data.
  • Was the on-premises modem “still” when the speed test was taken? By “still” the ISP is referring to the modem’s management of data coming from any device remotely or over cable, ethernet connection, during the time of the test. For example, if a family member is working on their laptop, e.g., doing homework, the modem’s management of the data from the laptop will affect a speed test taken during that time. This will disqualify the speed test data.
  • Was the crowdsourced and or bulk data drawn exclusively from the ISP’s premium service customers? The FCC stipulates that the speed testing data must be drawn from an ISP’s customers who have purchased the service provider’s best available service package. A customer might not need or be able to afford FCC’s “broadband” minimum service of 25/3 mbps, and thus would purchase a less expensive, slower service package offered by the ISP. For purposes of accurate speed testing, the ISP should not be penalized for offering true broadband-speed service that is passed over by a customer seeking a cheaper service.

PAgCASA, the Precision Ag Connectivity & Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance, is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to ensure broadband map accuracy, connectivity, and rural prosperity, stands ready to help states get their full share of federal broadband funds and successfully defend against challenges.

PAgCASA’s on-premises, cybersecure, network monitoring methodology – which deploys the same network monitoring devices the major ISPs use, on wired/ethernet-connected customer modems, from a volunteer pool of an ISP’s premium service customers selected using standardized random sampling methods – will, in fact, address all the challenge issues above and generate data ready for potential litigation.

As noted in another recent article on Broadband Breakfast, states like Georgia and North Carolina are finding significantly fewer served locations based on their latest state broadband data compared to FCC’s most recent Form 477 data. We expect to see similar differences across the country as states and the FCC bring forward their latest respective data.

Consider this: a ten percent delta between the FCC and state maps translates into a staggering $4 billion based on an overall federal broadband infrastructure spend of $40 billion – needed funds that will not make their way to genuinely unserved or underserved communities across the country.

Our nation can and must do better.

Garland T. McCoy, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Precision Ag Connectivity and Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance, is a long-time non-profit veteran in the fields of technology and telecommunication policy having served as Founder and CEO of the Technology Education Institute & Technology Policy Institute.  Garland was recently an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s iSchool, teaching information policy and decision making. He can be reached at garland.mccoy@pagcasa.org 

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

State Broadband Maps Show Significantly Fewer Served Locations than Does FCC’s Map

There is a ‘massive difference’ between federal Form 477 data and state maps in Georgia and North Carolina

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Screenshot of Eric McRae of the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia, at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event earlier this year

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2022 – State broadband maps from North Carolina and Georgia show significantly fewer served locations than do the Federal Communications Commission’s existing data, said a panel at a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

For us there is “a massive difference” between Form 477 data and Georgia’s data, said Eric McRae associate director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. McRae said the number of Georgians the FCC identifies as unserved is “miniscule,” while the state’s estimate is between 1 and 1.2 million unserved.

North Carolina also found the federal data lacking: “There are thousands of people that are technically in FCC considered served blocks that typed in their address and said they had no access or came in with 1 megabit or horrible speeds,” said Ray Zeisz, senior director of the Technology Infrastructure Lab at North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute. “We verified, certainly, that the data was overstated.”

With the two state-mapping leaders, J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, presented the findings of his recent report, which compares data from Georgia and North Carolina’s maps to the FCC’s Form 477 data.

Luening’s report outlines the contrasting methods employed by North Carolina and Georgia. North Carolina collected – and published – the results of 109,000 speed tests, measuring download and upload speeds, latency, and jitter. The Tar Heel State also gathered information on technology type, service provider, and other relevant factors.

Georgia’s process is more like the FCC’s current map-making process: It created a fabric dataset and solicited coverage data from providers on an iterative basis. The Peach State published its data in block-by-block form.

Unlike the maps generated from Form 477 data, Georgia’s maps show the percentage of served locations in each census block. “We’ve been able to get a very accurate count of the number of unserved locations that we have in the state of Georgia,” McRae said.

Imprecisions and inaccuracies in Form 477 data were largely responsible for the inception of the FCC’s current location-by-location mapping project. The Commission is still constructing this map and will accept challenges to the accuracy of its fabric dataset on a rolling basis. The map will be used to apportion among the states $42.45 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

McRae and Zeisz agreed a state must launch its own mapping initiative to check the accuracy of federal maps and ensure receipt of its fair share of BEAD funding.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC Broadband Data Task Force Emphasizes Need for Precision in Mapping Challenges

Officials on the panel said there was significant confusion among challengers regarding categories of challenges.

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FCC photo of Sean Spivey, senior counsel and chief of staff for the FCC's Broadband Data Task Force and host of Wednesday's webinar

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2022 – Challenges that do not strictly adhere to the Federal Communications Commission’s fabric-challenge guidelines will be thrown out, FCC broadband mapping officials warned in a webinar Wednesday.

The FCC’s fabric, a dataset of buildings that are or could be reached by fixed broadband service, will be the basis for the agency’s new national broadband map and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s division among the states of $42.45 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

Although the fabric’s data is not publicly available due to licensing agreements with contractor CostQuest, the FCC released a preliminary version to state governments, service providers, and other stakeholders. Those individuals may challenge the data contained in the fabric. The FCC and other experts have said the challenge process is indispensable to the accuracy of the agency’s forthcoming broadband map.

The panel of individuals on the webinar from the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force  identified seven challenge categories. The panel included Senior Counsel Sean Spivey, Senior Implementation Officer Chelsea Fallon, and officials John Emmett and Steven Rosenberg.

Each of the seven challenge pertains to a specific type of data correction. These include adding a serviceable location to the fabric, correcting an incorrect or missing address, or moving the marked serviceable location to another structure on the same parcel of land.

Officials on the panel said there is significant confusion among challengers regarding these categories. The panel highlighted a case in which the challenger mistakenly tried to add a new serviceable location instead of altering a listed address.

The panel also discouraged challengers from adding multiple serviceable locations to a single building. An apartment complex, for instance, is a single location, but can be marked as containing several sub-units. Even a building with multiple owners or addresses – like some duplexes – is considered a single serviceable location. Challenges to change the number of units or addresses associated with a location should not be confused with a challenge to add a location, the panel said.

To successfully add a serviceable location, a challenger must accurately mark the appropriate building to which it corresponds. Many challengers, however, marked proposed locations far from any building, often in the middle of a street.

The panel recommended the use of third-party software by challengers to ensure that their challenges are completed properly.

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