You can navigate the treacherous waters around broadband mapping by participating in this 2-hour Masterclass for only $99.
You’ll get to the bottom of the broadband mapping mess – and understand your ISP and community’s options – by participating in this Masterclass
Billions of broadband infrastructure funding have put broadband mapping back on the front-burner. You know that the federal government is about to award $42.5 billion in funds for broadband infrastructures. You also know that the Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband maps will determine how much funding each state gets.
But what if the broadband data underlying the maps is a complete mess?
- As broadband providers, you already submit data to the FCC through the Form 477. Now, you have additional broadband reporting requirements.
- But will your competitors’ data be accurate? How will you challenge their claims?
- As a community broadband participant, you’ve probably been upset by repeated inadequacies in the FCC’s Form 477 data.
- How will you assess what providers are claiming? How will you challenge their data?
The broadband mapping miasma has so many moving parts, it takes a Masterclass just to keep up…. Now you have that opportunity.
Introducing the Broadband Mapping Masterclass, presented by Drew Clark, CEO of Broadband Breakfast
Drew Clark isn’t just anyone talking about Broadband Mapping. He launched the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that ultimately forced broadband providers to identify where they offer broadband service. He then founded the first crowdsourced tool in this field, BroadbandCensus.com, which led him to be recruited to run the State of Illinois’s Broadband Mapping program. He is now CEO of Broadband Breakfast.
In this Masterclass, you can expect these learning outcomes:
- Understanding the FCC’s Broadband Fabric and Challenge Process
In this section of the Masterclass, you’ll learn what the FCC has done in the past, and what it’s doing now with its Broadband Data Collection. You’ll learn about the agency’s new broadband “fabric.” You’ll learn about challenges to the fabric. You’ll learn how ISPs must submit new data and how communities’ and ISP’s challenges to that data will work.
- Alternatives Your ISP or Community Has to Fix Bad or Missing Data
In this section of the Masterclass, you’ll learn about other options for obtaining and verifying broadband data. You’ll see concrete examples of broadband data collection by government agencies, private GIS companies, and non-profit groups. You’ll learn your options for obtaining and using better broadband data.
- What State Broadband Authorities Can Do to Help You
In this section of the Masterclass, you’ll learn about how state broadband offices are addressing the train-wreck in Washington. You’ll see concrete examples of state maps, understand how states are gearing up to challenge the FCC’s map, and get hands-on advice for how your ISP or community can benefit from the work of state broadband offices.
Do you need to get a handle on broadband mapping? Or would you rather keep your head in the sand?
By participating in the Broadband Mapping Masterclass, you’ll get the key insights and understand the tangible actions that your ISP, consultants, and community can take to emerge successfully through the broadband infrastructure funding.
Are you ready to achieve this?
- One-time payment
- Guaranteed place
- Full on-demand access to Masterclass recording
- Lifetime access to downloadable resources, including Broadband Breakfast’s research report on broadband mapping
Read more about the 5 reasons to attend the Broadband Mapping Masterclass
- Reason 1 to Attend Broadband Mapping Masterclass: Ripping the Fabric
- Reason 2 to Attend Broadband Mapping Masterclass: Aren’t Their Other Databases?
- Reason 3 to Attend Broadband Mapping Masterclass: State Maps vs. Federal Maps
- Reason 4 to Attend Broadband Mapping Masterclass: Measuring Actual Speeds
- Reason 5 to Attend Broadband Mapping Masterclass: Understanding Public Challenges
Frequently Asked Questions
How is the Broadband Mapping Masterclass Different from Broadband Breakfast Live Online?
Broadband Breakfast offers FREE webcasts every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. The Masterclass does not replace this free programming.
How much does the Broadband Mapping Masterclass cost?
The Broadband Mapping Masterclass by Drew Clark is available for only $99.
Will the Broadband Mapping Masterclass be live?
Yes, the Broadband Mapping Masterclass will take place LIVE on Tuesday, September 27, at 12 Noon ET.
Will a replay of the Masterclass be available?
A replay of the 2-hour recording will be available only to attendees.
Where do I watch the Broadband Mapping Masterclass?
The Broadband Mapping Masterclass will be available as a Zoom webinar.
How to I purchase the Broadband Mapping Masterclass?
ENROLL TODAY for our Zoom Webinar through PayPal.
How many times may I be able to watch the replay?
Attendees will enjoy unlimited, lifetime access to the Broadband Mapping Masterclass recording.
Will there be any resources associated much does the Masterclass cost?
Attendees will receive a Broadband Breakfast Research Report on Broadband Mapping. This premium downloadable resource will be available only attendees.
Why is everyone focused on broadband maps right now?
With the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s $65 billion broadband infrastructure program at stake, the Federal Communications Commission is gearing up to revise its much-flawed broadband maps.
Who needs to attend this webinar?
Internet Service Providers, consultants, and communities should all attend this webinar.
Why should I pay $99 for this Masterclass when there is so much information available on this topic for free?
This session is available for only $99. You’ll be guided on this journey by one of the most knowledgeable people on broadband mapping in the country. And you’ll get a better sense of the problems, pitfalls and opportunities for broadband providers and broadband communities.
What credentials does Drew Clark have to talk about broadband mapping?
Drew Clark is the original advocate for public and open broadband data. An early advocate of better broadband, better lives, Drew founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for better broadband data in 2008. That effort became the Broadband Breakfast media community. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over news coverage focused on digital infrastructure investment, broadband’s impact, and Big Tech. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Clark served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.
Will there still be a program on broadband mapping on Broadband Breakfast Live Online?
Yes, this Masterclass is in addition to Broadband Breakfast Live Online’s free weekly programs every WEDNESDAY at 12 Noon ET.
When does the Broadband Mapping Masterclass happen?
This Masterclass runs on TUESDAY, September 27, from 12 Noon ET-2 p.m. ET. Subsequent replay is available. ENROLL TODAY.
Panel Suggests Need for Tracking Mechanism for Broadband Infrastructure Funding
Panelists are concerned that states may not have had the prescriptive guidance needed to maximize funding.
WASHINGTON, January 31, 2023 – There needs to be a way to consistently track the billions in broadband infrastructure money coming from the federal government, panelists said at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event Tuesday.
With $42.5 billion coming to the states from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, experts floated the idea of having mandated ongoing reporting requirements on what that money is doing.
“Money goes out from the government in broadband stimulus, but we don’t track where it’s going very well,” said Sarah Oh Lam, senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, a federal funded research and development center. “We really don’t know outcomes…and I don’t see many efforts in mandating that we collect data from this [stimulus] round from the grantees that receive money.
“After it’s out the door, not as much attention is paid to evaluation, tracking, really measuring: Did the ways that the money was distributed – was it effective? How could it be improved?” Oh Lam added. “So I really recommend that people working on this round of IIJA and BEAD funding put in that requirement to collect data from the grantees and to really report results five years out, 10 years out.”
The unprecedented $65 billion made available to broadband infrastructure by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act is being seen as a once in a generation opportunity to provide access to high-speed internet to all Americans.
Piggybacking off that point, Brookings Institution senior fellow Nicol Turner-Lee said her research group is discussing their own version of a tracking mechanism, noting the number of broadband programs from BEAD to the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect.
“We are talking about a broadband dashboard, so something that is in real time because we have a lot of urgency” about this, Turner-Lee said.
“I think one way to increase public transparency about this spending is through some type of dashboard, that begins to show you where those investments are being made, what localities, what regions, what states, and the extent to which…just the improvement of data infrastructure — who’s involved with some of these decisions,” she added. “I think many of us are seeing states put together councils, but on the back-end we’re also hearing, ‘I didn’t know this was going on in my state.’
“Perhaps some of these dashboards can indicate that participatory process in addition to how the money is being spent, particularly as we lean in to where we are going to have to have some accountability on larger allotments of spending.”
However, Rob Rubinovitz, senior vice president and chief economist at trade association NCTA, said that’s all very difficult to do, adding the NCTA has tried that. He noted that the jurisdictions down to the county level do things differently, which means different ways of collecting data.
He suggested perhaps a more uniform way of collecting the data for all recipients of funding would help resolve the issue.
Concern about how states utilize funds
Along those lines, there was also some lingering concern on the panel about the NTIA’s guidelines for broadband funding being less prescriptive than it should have been.
Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research, said the guidance was vague in some areas – for example, in the case of a preference for open access networks, which allow other service providers to piggyback off of the same infrastructure – with the concern being “we’re going to end up with variability with how the funds are deployed across states.
Chaplin noted that $42.5 billion — $100 million for each state as a baseline — is not enough on its own to close the digital divide for the 14 million unserved homes in America, recommending that states maximize the draw of private capital to get the funding required to do that.
“Some states are going to do it much better than others,” Chaplin said, “and we could end up with some states missing this historic opportunity to close the digital divide once and for all.”
The NTIA is expected to allocate the rest of the BEAD money to states by June 30.
NTIA Working on State Guidance for Further Map Challenges After BEAD Allocation: Official
An agency official said states have asked for guidance on how to handle local challenges.
WASHINGTON, January 19, 2023 — A senior advisor to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday that the Commerce Department agency is working on crafting guidance for states about how to approach local map challenges after it allocates the $42.5 billion from its flagship broadband program.
The NTIA is preparing to allocate money to the states from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, following the closing of the deadline Friday to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s maps on which that funding is dependent. The agency, which has already decided on a base of $100 million for each state, has said it expects to allocate all remaining funds by June 30.
Sarah Morris, a senior advisor to NTIA head Alan Davidson – who was expected to appear at the Conference of Mayors Thursday but could not – said the agency has fielded questions from state officials about how to handle local challenges to the underlying data – including areas that are served and unserved – that props up the FCC’s map.
“The states have had a lot of questions about how to do this and we are working on guidance for them,” Morris said to a conference room containing mayors from cities across the country. “So we appreciate your [mayors] input as well as we’re thinking through how much guidance and what type of guidance…as states come up with their own state challenge process.”
Morris added that the NTIA knows there are a lot of other data sources that determine served and unserved areas and that the states will have “more flexibility” in the challenge process, as the FCC is generally constrained by legislation for mapping data.
What cities can do now for BEAD preparation
Morris also advised cities on what to do now to prepare for when the BEAD allocations are made.
“Document the connectivity challenges in your communities…we want to make sure those needs are reflected in the five-year plan,” she said, alluding to the applications for BEAD funding.
She also urged, as many before her have, for the mayors to meet with their state broadband offices, which she called the “center of gravity” for federal broadband funding.
Finally, she also asked for the mayors help “spread the word. It’s not easy reaching the unconnected and we want to make sure that folks understand the good work that is possible within these programs and that people feel connected, not just the leaders and politicians in the state, but really the folks on the ground in communities, that they understand what’s happening and feel connected to these programs.”
Chris Mitchell: After Friday the 13th, a Failed Broadband Mapping Challenge Process
The data only became publicly available after the deadline passed.
Last Friday was a major milestone in the process of moving $42.5 billion from the federal government to states to distribute mostly to rural areas to build new, modern internet access networks. January 13th marked the deadline for error corrections (called challenges) to the official national map that will be used to determine how much each state will get.
As an organization that has worked in nearly all 50 states over the past 20 years on policies to improve internet access, we spent the last few weeks struggling to understand what was actually at stake and wondering if we were alone in being confused about the process. Despite the stakes, almost no expert we talked to actually understood which challenges – if any – would fix errors in the map data before it was used to allocate the largest single federal broadband investment in history.
This article will explore what is going wrong with the distribution of that $42.5 billion, the mapping process, and continued failure of the Federal Communications Commission to show competence in the broadband arena. And it offers ways to fix these important problems as every jurisdiction from Puerto Rico to Hawaii feels overwhelmed by the challenge.
The $42.5 billion guarantees each state $100 million and a large additional sum calculated proportionally based on the number of locations in each state that don’t have adequate high-speed internet service. States that already made significant investments in better rural networks and made strides toward fast universal internet access for all households – like Massachusetts – will likely not receive much more than $100 million, while extremely large states with many high-cost rural residents – like Texas and California – will receive billions.
NTIA is tasked with administering and distributing the funds and must use FCC data to determine estimates of awards to each state. ACA Connects and broadband analyst Mike Conlow have separately provided some preliminary estimates already. The FCC is building its official “Broadband Data Collection” (BDC) via a contract with CostQuest Associates. (There is a lot to be questioned about that contract but this is not the place.)
The FCC fails at broadband
The fundamental problem today is the continued failure of the FCC to produce an accurate map of where internet service is available and under what conditions (competitive options, price, reliability, speed, etc). The US National Broadband Plan – unveiled in 2010 – encouraged the FCC to develop better data on broadband deployment. Public interest groups have spent more than a decade asking the FCC to collect and distribute accurate internet access data. For years, everyone from local officials to US representatives and senators have ridiculed the commission for the long time Form 477 methodology that if a single home in a census block might be able to get access from a provider, everyone in the block definitely has access.
But nothing has been done, and the nation’s premier regulator of telecommunications continues to have no good sense of where good or bad internet access is, particularly in rural areas where the need is most acute.
Ajit Pai, former FCC chair under President Donald Trump, ignored Congress’ direction for new maps, claiming the agency was too broke to follow the law. And he moved forward with a multi-year plan to auction rural subsidies, called the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Some criticized the move given the lack of data, but I actually agreed with chair Pai because there were enough obvious unserved areas that could be prioritized while better maps were developed. But better maps were not developed and Pai’s management of RDOF turned into a bit of a shambles.
The repeated failure of the FCC to produce any reasonable broadband data collection across multiple presidential administrations, its disastrous management of billions of dollars in universal service funds to expand broadband, inability to modernize its broadband definition, and its mishandling of RDOF resulted in a surprising U-turn in Congress in 2021. Led primarily by Democrats, Congress had been preparing an unprecedented rural broadband subsidy package that would be largely distributed by an FCC-managed reverse auction. By the time that turned into the $42.5 billion BEAD legislation, Congress had so lost faith in the FCC that it sent the money directly to the states via NTIA.
Nonetheless, Congress directed the FCC to develop an accurate broadband data collection and required NTIA to base the $42.5 billion allocations using it. And that almost brings us back to January 13th.
The fabric and availability – in theory
Before the FCC can follow Congress’ instructions to develop an accurate broadband data collection, it has to catalog every location where high quality internet access should be available in order to determine whether it is available there. And that turns out to be more difficult than one might expect – especially if, like a procrastinating middle schooler, a federal agency waited until the last possible second to develop such a database.
The FCC turned to CostQuest Associates, a firm that it had long worked with to develop cost models for deployment. CostQuest developed a nationwide, proprietary fabric of “broadband serviceable locations.” Those include businesses, single family homes, apartment complexes, and more.
Given the enormity of that challenge – and how it literally changes every day – there were bound to be errors. Millions of them. Mostly in more rural areas and especially in Indian country where there are even fewer available records that CostQuest could mash together to identify accurate locations.
Once all the broadband serviceable locations are identified, the FCC began the next step of the process, and asked ISPs to identify which ones they offered service to. ISPs could upload a list of addresses or submit polygons that their fancy GIS software can probably output with a few clicks.
For fans of Top Gun Maverick, Miracle #1 is identifying all the locations where broadband should be available and Miracle #2 is accurately identifying what kind of service is available to it. I don’t want to spoil either the movie or real life, but Tom Cruise doesn’t save the day for the FCC.
Challenges with fabric challenges
Well aware of the FCC’s failed history of broadband mapping, Congress required the commission to install quality control mechanisms for data collection before NTIA had to calculate state BEAD allocations.
- “The Broadband DATA Act requires the Commission to adopt a user-friendly challenge process through which consumers, State, local, and Tribal governmental entities, and other entities or individuals may submit challenges to the accuracy of the coverage maps, broadband availability information submitted by providers, or information included in the Fabric.” (paragraph 70)
And so, the FCC set up processes for public challenges in which some entities – states, local governments, tribal governments, ISPs, and other organizations like ILSR that pursue the required licensing agreement with CostQuest – could file bulk challenges to the location and service-level data. Though it began in the summer, few were able to do much with the system prior to autumn. Then, beginning in November 2022 and ending last Friday, anyone could file individual challenges to both the fabric location data (is a home or business accurately depicted as broadband serviceable location?) and availability data (is the service actually available to it properly described?).
There is a lot going on – especially in states that are trying to staff up their offices with a candidate pool often lacking broadband in prior broadband expertise. If it were not for the NTIA need to allocate the $42.5 billion in BEAD funding, everyone would have had more time to understand the process and fix the errors. Or, if the FCC had started the process back when Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act in the spring of 2020, it would be further along now. Each month of delay is another month where the Biden Administration is not getting money out to states to build better networks.
Knowing that NTIA needed data to make its estimates, the FCC gave ISPs and states first crack at challenges while it prepared to release a map for public perusal. For the rest of us, the map became available on the Friday before Thanksgiving, and the FCC announced the January 13th deadline for challenges to fix errors. Public interest groups, states, local governments, and many more went to work – many giving up personal time around the holidays – in the hopes of ensuring their states had accurate data to maximize their share of the $42.5 billion.
Unfortunately, many of us have come to believe the individual, public challenge process window – and the way it has been consistently described by both the FCC and NTIA – was largely a sham that would not fix most of the errors in the data. We hope to be proven wrong as the FCC evaluates the challenges, but it is hard to come to any other conclusion after learning only a few days from Friday’s deadline that the real cutoff for location challenges to change BEAD allocations was actually October 30, 2022. That was before the public could even see any of the data.
In emphasizing the January 13 deadline, NTIA and FCC repeatedly used the challenge terminology ambiguously (locations and availability), not clearly explaining that only the availability challenges made during the November to January window would be used in determining how to divide the $42.5 billion. Location challenges after Oct 30 are helping to fix the map over time but not for allocating bead funding. That might have been useful information for all the people and organizations that put so much time into fixing errors in the data collection.
To be perfectly clear: the new FCC maps will replace the previous ones, and continue to be used for years to come. We’ll likely see new versions published twice per year, as has been the case in the past. Challenges made post-January 13 will help improve the map’s accuracy down the road if the FCC takes them seriously, but by then the state BEAD allocations – a once-in-a-generation investment in our national telecommunications infrastructure – will have passed.
Imagine our shock (and others), when we learned that the deadline for location challenges to be included in the BEAD allocations was October 30, 2022, not January 13, 2023. We can say confidently that in our conversations, few state broadband offices understood this distinction. In fact, we believe nearly everyone involved in the challenges thought the location challenges they filed would help their states rectify inaccuracies and improve their share of the $42.5 billion.
Even conservative hypotheticals show that there are serious consequences at stake here. If every state averaged just 20,000 missing locations from the fabric, the number of broadband serviceable locations missing across the country would total one million premises – representing millions of people. The twist of the knife here is that these locations are the most likely to already lack decent internet access (likely for years), because if they were served by an ISP, that company likely would have fixed the omission prior to October 30.
If every state missed 20,000, the proportional distribution wouldn’t change. But these omissions aren’t random, and 20,000 is a low estimate for missed locations (based on our preliminary survey of state-filed bulk challenges). The data is decent in urban areas but some rural areas have significant problems, as noted by industry analyst and consultant Doug Dawson.
- The State of Vermont reacted quickly to the new FCC maps and showed the extent of the problems. The State sent a challenge letter to the FCC saying that 11% of the locations in the FCC mapping fabric don’t exist. Worse, Vermont says that 22% of locations are missing from the FCC map. Vermont also said the speeds portrayed in the new maps don’t align with its own local mapping effort. The new FCC map shows that over 95% of Vermont homes have access to broadband of at least 100/20 Mbps. The State’s broadband maps show that only 71% of homes in the state can receive broadband at 100 Mbps or faster at the end of 2021.
The problem is magnified because only some states were aware of the Oct 30, 2022 deadline and got their location challenges in. That disparate outcome is a savage irony for Nevada, which appears likely to be punished more than others (pdf) under the arrangement. Irony because one of their Senators – Senator Cortez Masto – was almost certainly one of the very few Democrats that held up the confirmation of Gigi Sohn to the FCC. With Biden’s term already half completed, the Senate has kept the FCC at a 2-2 deadlock by failing to confirm his 3rd vote at the Commission. And as this story details, the FCC is not getting the job done.
To recap – the FCC is required to allow challenges to its data because of its history of inaccurate broadband claims. The FCC created a proprietary fabric with a hasty contract with CostQuest Associates, trying to tackle an extremely difficult problem on a short timeline. States had an early shot to fix errors in the fabric, but at a time when many state offices were still seeking people to work in their broadband offices. The data only became publicly available after the deadline passed to fix what could be millions of omitted or incorrect locations, at which point the FCC and NTIA encouraged people to submit challenges (during the December holidays) to fix both the fabric and the overstated claims of availability.
In our internal sanity check, we found just one clear communication from NTIA about the October 30 fabric challenge deadline. Nearly all appear to have been ambiguous about what challenges would change BEAD allocations. FCC communications likewise treated challenges interchangeably, leading few to realize that location challenges after October 30 would not change BEAD allocations, which is the primary reason so many were motivated to fix CostQuest’s errors.
Why? As best we can tell, the FCC is concerned that if it adjusted the fabric after October 30 based on the public challenges, it would have to give the ISPs more time to claim service available to those new locations. However, the ISPs already had a chance to fix those errors. Thus, the FCC had to choose between leaving potentially more than a million locations off the map erroneously or including them and running the risk that some small subset of them might be classified inaccurately as unserved. The Commission made its usual choice – backing ISPs rather than residents and small businesses that need better internet access.
Meet the new maps, same as the old maps
One of the reasons many of us actually focused on fabric location challenges is because they seemed more likely to succeed than availability challenges, which are harder to prove. People and governments find it easier to identify home and business addresses that exist than they do to argue about whether an ISP has accurately described the services available at that location.
Many of us hoped that the FCC would incorporate some form of crowdsourced data in its mapping process, but it has not. The FCC declined, in part because individual speed test results may not accurately reflect a connection because the test might have been done over congested Wi-Fi or that service might be a lower tier from the max offered, or other reasons. However, many working in this space have convincingly argued that many speed tests in aggregate should be used to highlight regions with consistent significant discrepancies between test results and the claimed advertised speeds from ISPs. We fear that the availability challenges may become a “he said, she said” affair.
Availability challenges can be done by property owners or in bulk by states, local governments, tribes, and others licensed to do so. However, it is not clear how the FCC will actually adjudicate between a provider and a homeowner. For instance, a fixed wireless provider told the FCC it offered my home symmetrical gigabit. But their website told me I could pay hundreds of dollars for 2 or 3 Mbps. I asked for the service and when I got no response, I filed a challenge. We’ll see how it goes. Even if I succeed, the map will likely still reflect that ISP telling the FCC that it would offer a symmetrical gigabit to my neighbors. The FCC refuses to penalize firms for repeatedly filing false information, arguing it could actually be an honest mistake. This feels like reports of when that mob guy fell down the stairs onto a knife seven times. It’s an embarrassment to a process with so much at stake, and an insult to our collective intelligence.
People are able to challenge the data, but few experts that we have talked to expect those challenges to go very far. And as we have worked with local groups to help them challenge their local data, we have heard the process is too difficult and people have many concerns about privacy.
In a discussion about the current mapping process, executive director of the Precision Ag Connectivity Act Stakeholder Alliance Garland McCoy argued that the new maps are going to be the same as the old maps (around 45 min in). The maps continue to rely primarily on claims by ISPs regarding what they advertise to locations without any pricing information.
We only have anecdotal evidence about the acceptance rate of both location and availability challenges thus far, but they are not as high as we would expect. Doug Dawson noted an area where they put in almost 200 location challenges but the FCC only accepted 7 of them. One of the locations that was rejected was the home of a person who was on the local broadband council. We will not be surprised if the acceptance rate of the availability challenges is in single digits, and are concerned that the FCC’s fabric location challenges could be below 50 percent, leaving at least hundreds of thousands of households off of our national broadband map.
There is little about this process that should give anyone any faith that the FCC is finally building an accurate broadband data set that should be used to distribute millions, let alone tens of billions of dollars.
What should be done
To ensure the $42.5 billion finally resolves the digital divide, both the FCC and NTIA need to change course. NTIA needs to use some flexibility in the BEAD program to push some initial money out to states while waiting on final estimates from FCC maps that better reflect reality. Both agencies should seriously explore how and why the confusion and misinformation conflating availability challenges with location challenges happened. To resolve the problems identified above, we recommend the following:
- NTIA should not make final BEAD allocations using data from the current FCC data collection where only some states were able to offer fixes for their many missing locations.
- The Senate should confirm Sohn and break the FCC deadlock.
- The FCC must develop a data source about internet access availability that reflects the actual service available to homes and businesses.
- The FCC needs greater independence from the biggest cable and telecom companies.
- States need to develop their own mapping capacity rather than relying solely on the FCC and to ensure they spend internet access subsidies wisely.
NTIA is required by a somewhat prescriptive statute to use FCC data to allocate the $42.5 billion among states and territories. The FCC’s data is not ready and has not been properly reviewed by the states, local governments, and other key entities. NTIA is required to distribute $100 million to each state at a minimum and it should start moving a significant amount of that money while delaying making the final allocation until FCC has adequate data. This path is a modest improvisation on the statute, much more in keeping with its spirit than the ways NTIA has blown through deadlines in statute for various programs, including the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, without much consequence.
On matters of broadband internet access – from tracking its deployment to subsidizing better networks, the FCC has failed, and exhibits the key characteristics of a captured agency. During the entire Biden Administration, the Commission has been deadlocked with a 2-2 vote as the President delayed his nomination for most of his first year and then Sohn faced an unprecedented effort of powerful monopoly lobbyists to prevent her confirmation, despite many of those lobbyists themselves quietly admitting to those around them that she was eminently qualified. The lobbyists hoped to run out the clock in 2022 but President Biden surprised them by re-nominating her and expectations are in line with a confirmation in the 1st quarter of this year.
Sohn brings a seriousness, experience, and willingness to do the hard work that the Commission desperately needs more of. The Senate needs to confirm her and investigate whether the FCC is actually adhering to the requirements that its broadband data be open to corrections. An early sign will be the rate of the FCC accepting challenges given what appears to many experts of a current broadband data collection riddled with inaccurate claims.
Further, Congress should require the FCC collect pricing data and penalize those ISPs that consistently submit false data regarding their availability and the capacity that will actually be available to subscribers. Though the Biden Administration claims BEAD will somehow result in “Internet for All,” we believe the country will continue to have significant challenges with urban internet access in high-poverty neighborhoods, on many remote Tribal Reservations, and in some rural pockets of states that spend the money less wisely. Having accurate data will help to address those challenges after BEAD investments are made.
Given the small size of the telecom/broadband field, having some kind of revolving door between the FCC and industry is inevitable. However, that door should be made to better reflect the diversity of the telecommunications sector rather than being so skewed in the favor of the biggest monopolies. This is particularly true for the highest-level staff and appointees, who are far more likely to have worked only with the biggest cable or telephone companies prior to joining the Commission or after they have left it. A healthy FCC would see a greater representation of small companies, cooperatives, and municipal providers walking through the doors.
Finally, as Tamarah Holmes told me as we discussed her Office of Broadband at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, states need to develop their own GIS capacity in order to effectively distribute broadband subsidies as well as more generally move to universal access. Fixing the FCC will take more time than the states can afford to give. The states have their own power to compel ISPs to submit accurate data on deployment and ban them from receiving subsidies if they consistently file false claims.
States need to become more savvy on matters of internet access, ensuring the local providers in their states have a fair shot at funds to expand to unserved and underserved areas because they have tended to outperform national ISPs at building great networks in more rural areas despite having less access to capital and subsidies historically.
The confusion and wasted effort around the January 13th deadline will have been a small price to pay if it jolts the FCC and NTIA out of their current paths.
Editor’s Note: This piece was authored by Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Network Initiative. His work focuses on helping communities ensure that the telecommunications networks upon which they depend are accountable to the community. He was honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology by Government Technology, which honors the top “Doers, Drivers, and Dreamers” in the nation each year. This piece was originally published on MuniNetworks.org on January 17, 2023, and is reprinted with permission.
Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to email@example.com. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.
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FCC Proposes $62 Million Fine, SCOTUS Urged to Keep Section 230, TikTok Bans Extending
#broadbandlive3 weeks ago
Broadband Breakfast on January 25, 2023 – Section 230, Google, Twitter and the Supreme Court
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Broadband Breakfast on March 1, 2023 – Preview Session for Big Tech & Speech Summit