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Watchdog Report Calls for National Broadband Strategy to Reduce Broadband Fund Inefficiencies

The GAO report found many different federal broadband programs prone to inefficiencies.

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Photo of Mark Warner, D-VA

WASHINGTON, June 7, 2022 – The Government Accountability Office has called for the federal government to address the considerable overlap among over 100 different funding programs overseen by 15 separate agencies for broadband builds that it said in a report released last week could cause service “inefficiencies.”

The GAO indicated that the various grant programs had fragmentation, referring to circumstances where more than one agency was involved in the same broad area of need; overlap, occurring when multiple agencies have similar goals; and duplication, when multiple agencies have the same goal and activities.

The report recommends that the National Economic Council develop and implement a national broadband strategy “with clear roles, goals, objectives, and performance measures to support better management of fragmented, overlapping federal broadband programs and synchronize coordination efforts.”

While some fragmentation and overlap is necessary to complement existing programs, said the report, other cases where multiple agencies are involved “can create barriers for program applicants or inefficiencies in service delivery.”

The report highlighted an overall concern that federal programs are a patchwork of grants that is unorganized and ineffective. “Overlap and duplication [can sometimes] occur because of incremental addition of programs over time to respond to new needs and challenges, without a strategy to coordinate efforts and effectively manage them.”

Lags between application and deployment times across different programs also present opportunity for duplication, the report said. The GAO warned that this can negatively affect program outcomes, implementation and cost-effectiveness.

Current efforts

The NEC leads regular broadband coordination meetings with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that focus on avoiding duplication with other federal agencies. The executive leadership team of the American Broadband Initiative, an interagency working group,  was established to address individual agency actions and serve as an information-sharing venue.

Furthermore, the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act includes a new interagency coordination provision that requires the NTIA to coordinate with other agencies when implementing new programs or mapping efforts. It will be expected to establish program definitions and determine how funds complement other programs.

To that end, the GAO also calls for the NTIA to identify the statutory limitations preventing program alignment.

The GAO report said that “implementation of these requirements is still forthcoming and NTIA is assessing the new coordination requirements.”

The IIJA does not require the NTIA or any other federal agency to develop a national broadband strategy.

Agencies are not unaware of this issue. Many are working to coordinate with other programs to reduce duplication but claim that “some statutory specifics within programs limit the agencies’ ability to more effectively align their programs,” the reports said.

“Some stakeholders,” continued the report, “said it can be challenging to use programs together to boost overall broadband access, often because programs are targeted to specific needs or have certain restrictions.”

The NTIA’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth is developing a 2022 internal workplan for interagency coordination but it will “not be a strategy for the office as a whole.” This comes a decade after its outdated 2010 national broadband plan.

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Expert Opinion

Pierre Trudeau: Life in the Trenches, or Lessons Learned Deploying Broadband in MDUs

Behind every great wireless network, is an even greater wired network.

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The author of this expert opinion is Pierre Trudeau, president and CTO of Positron Access Solutions.

Imagine community-wide Wi-Fi an industry standard in multi-dwelling environments. This is possible through the deployment of G.hn technology.

G.hn, an International Telecommunications Union (ITU-T) standard, is an access technology for operators looking to simplify their access network with an “Ethernet-like” technology. 

With G.hn, operators deliver advanced services, such as gigabit high-speed residential internet and 4K internet protocol television without the high capital and operational expenses associated with a fiber retrofit. Each G.hn subscriber port supports up to 1.7 Gbps of dynamically allocated bandwidth for near-symmetrical gigabit services. This enables providers to deliver a gigabit internet service to each apartment inside a multi-dwelling unit or a multi-tenant unit without the cost, complexity and delays associated with in-building fiber installation.

As deployed by Positron Access, G.hn is increasingly used by our partners to sustainably improve connectivity in multifamily communities. These partners offer in-depth analysis of cabling specifics and electrical as-built drawings of active properties to design a custom wiring solution to accommodate, rather than replace, each property’s unique, pre-existing infrastructure. 

Proven Benefits of Fiber Service Extension Applications

Our partners leverage their expertise of the Positron G.hn Access Multiplexer to enable MDU property management companies to offer lightning-quick, cost-effective, and dependable Gigabit internet speeds to their tenants in MDUs. Property management companies can then improve their service levels without the need for any building retrofit, which can be expensive and disruptive. Property management companies expand the services they deliver with an impressive ROI and minimal capital outlay.

The transformative nature of G.hn applications will make community-wide Wi-Fi an industry standard in multi-dwelling environments. With the broader installation of smart building systems including cameras, sensors, environmental controls, and asset tracking systems as crucial amenities for an improved resident experience, residents will come to view community Wi-Fi systems as another essential building asset. Owners that do not keep up with these developments will see the quality and capitalized value of their community suffer. 

The Process

Positron’s partners have developed a proven process to ensure a successful and sustainable deployment in existing brownfield properties.

In-Depth Site Surveys

The site survey process begins with a careful analysis of each property’s unique needs. Built from the ground up, the solution is designed to accommodate each property’s unique blueprints and connectivity requirements. Site surveys are extremely important to ensure systems are updated in the most economical way for each property’s connectivity requirements.

Minimal Interruption

The deployment process is aligned to complement, rather than disrupt, established occupancy turn processes. With little to no downtime, the installation enables property-wide connectivity, giving residents the opportunity to immediately connect to the internet, without reauthorizing as they move about the property.

Sustainable and scalable

Positron’s partners provide subscribers with an extensive support team, dedicated to each property’s continued development and operation, designing customized, future-proof solutions to ensure the network is both a sustainable and buildable foundation for upcoming technologies like Web 3.0, Wi-Fi 7 and 5G. G.hn technology is designed to be adapted and improved upon to grow in tandem with each property, working together to accommodate any future needs that may arise.

Lessons Learned

The installation of the GAM solution by Positron’s partners highlighted the importance of a careful pre-deployment site survey and this is applicable to coaxial and telephone wiring re-use with G.hn.

For MDUs where the telephone wiring will be re-used, the continuity of pairs currently used for VDSL2 or even telephone service, there is no additional validation required since G.hn is permissive and will operate without further pair qualification or grooming.  For unused pairs, it is important to perform a continuity test using the same tools and techniques used for the last 20 years for xDSL.  Bad pairs can then be identified and repaired as needed.

When re-using coaxial cabling, understanding how each room or apartment is connected is important.  Most MDUs are cabled with “home run” coaxial cabling to a common location where taps or splitters can be installed in a point to multipoint mode to reduce the connectivity cost of each subscriber.  Unlike CATV and DOCSIS, G.hn does not require coaxial amplifiers and fine tuning with attenuating taps.  If co-habitation with CATV is required, the G.hn signal shall be injected downstream of the CATV/DOCSIS amplifier with a simple 2:1 combiner device.  Otherwise, if migrating to IPTV or streaming, these amplifiers and attenuating taps shall be removed as they are no longer useful.

For some properties, the option of a comprehensive site survey is not always an option.  For instance, a property of about 450 doors no longer had up to date coaxial cabling diagrams.  In this case, rather than spending days “toning out” each coaxial drop with specialized equipment to document the coaxial infrastructure, we recommend installing the GAM devices in each wiring closet and pre-install the G.hn endpoint devices in each room or apartment and to record serial number of each device against the room or apartment number.  Using the endpoint auto-detection feature for each coaxial port of the GAM, it is then simple and efficient to use this information to fully document which door is served by each coaxial segment.

Overall, we learned that G.hn is robust and rather forgiving with regards to “less than stellar” existing wiring.  You can plan fiber extension by re-using the existing wiring in your building without too much concern about potential complexity, cost, or performance issues.

Pierre Trudeau is the president and CTO of Positron Access Solutions and a seasoned Networking and Technology Executive with over 30 years of experience. Pierre founded Colubris Networks, a leader in advanced Wi-Fi solutions for Wireless ISP, Carriers and Enterprises in March 2000. He provided business and technology services to several companies until January 2013 when he joined Positron Access as its Chief Strategy Officer. This Expert Opinion 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 reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Broadband Mapping

Garland McCoy: Some State Attorneys General Are Preparing to Take the FCC to Court

While some will “cash out,” other state broadband officials will seek the full measure of federal broadband infrastructure funds due.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Garland McCoy, Executive Director of Precision Ag Connectivity and Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance

Let me start by saving the time of those state broadband officials who are going to accept the recently released FCC Broadband Map Data at face value and take NTIA’s “cash out,” and in doing so, forgo participation in the available FCC challenge process. For those state broadband officials, the insights, and recommendations I provide below will be of little interest to you. 

If the past is any prelude to the future, the Internet Service Providers will use the same challenge criteria to successfully throw out the crowdsourced and bulk data that states have gathered for their own maps. As I detailed in my recent article on Broadband Breakfast, the FCC published specifications for its challenge process on September 15, 2022.

This directive gives ISPs authority to challenge data drawn from their respective service territories, leaving states with little choice but to accept the FCC’s map. The only notable exception is California, which has put in place its own statewide device-driven data gathering methodology, and we consider its data as likely challenge-proof. 

Not all is lost for states seeking to challenge the FCC’s maps

But all is not lost for other states. By the end of the first quarter of next year I firmly believe there will be some state broadband officials who will seek to pursue the full measure of federal broadband infrastructure funds due them, and not simply acquiesce to a smaller portion of funds that is supported by the flawed FCC map.

I base this assumption on new methodologies now available to states, which will bring the same type of credible validation and metering to broadband service at the end-user level that has been available, and required, for decades with other important utilities such as electricity, water, and natural gas. In other words, these methodologies will allow consumers to determine if they are getting true broadband speed connectivity – and frankly whether or not they are getting what they are paying for.

These state broadband officials have reviewed the recently released FCC broadband map and have compared it to their own respective state broadband maps. And not surprisingly, what they are finding is an FCC map that vastly overstates the amount of broadband connectivity in their states, and in doing so, vastly reduces the amount of federal dollars that state will receive. And these differences are significant. It could mean as much as a loss of tens of millions of dollars in smaller states and up to half a billion dollars or more for larger states. 

What these state officials will ultimately find is irrefutable evidence that many of the ISPs doing business in their state have been systematically providing significantly less service speed and quality than their customers’ terms of service agreements stipulate.

States are beginning to work with their state attorneys general on lawsuits

Knowing this and considering how the FCC has not run a transparent and straightforward process – and has used the calendar in a way to run out the clock on states, you can see why some state broadband officials have begun working with their state attorneys general to not only prepare to challenge the FCC data, but to take their case to court. 

Consider the calendar issue alone: The FCC released its long-anticipated new map data on November 18, 2022, and is giving states until January 13, 2023, to respond – with the major holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s falling in the interim.

If you are one of these state broadband officials currently considering your options to challenge and/or litigate, then we can play a vital role in your efforts. You will need to ensure that your state broadband map data is litigation-ready by putting in place bullet-proof methodologies and highly credible network monitoring devices/meters. This data can be used to support your case for the full broadband infrastructure funding that your State is entitled to receive.  Additionally, these same devices and methodologies can be used to support any state lawsuits against ISPs for false/deceptive advertising and breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of customer “terms of service” contracts. 

Importantly, our device-driven methodology also focuses solely on the premium customers of ISPs in rural counties of a state, which establishes what FCC refers to as the “available service” for a given ISP’s service territory. 

You have the power to truly close your state’s broadband connectivity gap by fully utilizing the historic level of federal infrastructure funding that has been set aside for this purpose, which in turn will bring accountability and equity to broadband network services for your citizens. 

If you want a citizen-centric partner in these initiatives, please visit our website and contact me at the email address provided below. PAgCASA is a non-profit organization focused on promoting rural prosperity, and we are utilizing industry standard network monitoring/metering devices, same as used by the largest ISPs, litigation-ready methodologies, and an expert team and partnerships to accomplish our goals.

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. Garland was recently an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s iSchool, teaching information policy and decision making, and can be reached at garland.mccoy@pagcasa.org. 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 reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Satellite

LEO Technology Could Connect the Unconnected, Although Capacity Questions Remain

Unlike geostationary satellites, LEOs offer a connection that can support real-time communication.

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Screenshot of Internet Society Director of Online Content Dan York

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2022 — Low earth orbit satellites have the potential to provide life-changing connectivity for rural and underserved users if they can overcome issues of affordability and sustainability, according to Dan York, director of online content for the Internet Society.

Speaking at a Friday event hosted by the Gigabit Libraries Network, York explained that LEO technology can help to not only connect the two billion people worldwide who are unserved but also improve connectivity for the underserved.

Traditional geostationary satellites can provide some connectivity, but the high latency prevents uses like video calling or online gaming. LEOs offer a low-latency, high-speed connection that supports real-time communication.

In addition to being an interim solution while fiber buildout takes place, LEOs can provide redundancy during disasters and other outages, said Don Means, director of the Gigabit Libraries Network.

York agreed, noting that LEO satellites played an important role in providing connectivity during the aftermath of Hurricane Ian or during wildfires in California.

“Starlink makes it super easy because they can bring one of their trailers into a location, put up a Starlink antenna on the top, bring that connectivity down and then they can share it locally with Wi-Fi access points or cellular access points so people can be able to get that kind of connectivity — first responders, but also people in that local community.”

LEO satellites can provide connectivity even for certain locations that lack a ground station by using inter-satellite lasers, York added.

There are three primary LEO system components. Satellite constellations are made up of hundreds or thousands of satellites, launched into orbit and arranged into “shells” at various altitudes.

User terminals facilitate the transmission and receipt of data to and from the satellites. The antennas are “electronically steerable,” meaning that they can track multiple satellites without physically moving.

The final LEO system component is ground stations, also known as gateways, which are the large antennas and facilities that connect the satellites to the internet.

Advances in rocket technology are driving an increase in LEO satellites, York said. For example, SpaceX is reusing rockets, making launches less expensive. The relatively smaller size of LEO satellites means that they can be mass produced using assembly lines.

However, affordability is still a barrier to widespread adoption, York said. Another challenge is competition with mobile telecom companies for spectrum allocation. ISOC recently released a study discussing these issues and making recommendations for their resolution.

There is also still some uncertainty about the capacity of these connections, York said, pointing to anecdotal reports as well as an Ookla study showing that Starlink’s capacity had decreased in certain areas.

“How much of that is growing pains while Starlink continues to build out the rest of its constellation, versus how much of it might be inherent limitations within the systems?” he asked. “We don’t know. I think we probably won’t know until more of these systems get up and are launched.”

Despite these questions, York was optimistic about the promise of LEO technology: “I think there’s great potential that these systems, as they come online, can truly offer us ways to connect the unconnected.”

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