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Broadband Mapping

FCC Challenge Process Important for Getting Accurate Maps, Says Technology Policy Institute

Better and more up-to-date information can come from harmonizing existing data sets, updated whenever a given map has new information.

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Screenshot of Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow for the Technology Policy Institute.

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2022 – Errors in the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband maps are inevitable, but they can be iteratively mitigated through an ongoing challenge process, said Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow for the Technology Policy Institute, at the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber for Breakfast livestream Wednesday.

The FCC made the preliminary version “fabric” map to state broadband entities and others earlier this year, and the agency will accept challenges thereto on a rolling basis that started on September 12.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program’s $42.5 billion will be distributed among the states based on the fabric’s data.

Wallsten’s joined Fiber for Breakfast to discuss a recently-published column, which identified three obstacles to the creation of accurate broadband maps in accordance with Congress’s statutory directions.

First, Wallsten argues, mapping efforts are out of date almost immediately because broadband infrastructure is constantly being built.

Second, he says that the immense amount of data needed for building-by-building broadband mapping ensures that errors will be committed.

Third, Wallsten writes, “Because money follows the maps, they are inherently political.” Wallsten said states have an incentive to overreport underserved areas to obtain more funding. FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton rejoined that such overreporting will likely be balanced by challenges from internet service providers, who have an incentive to overreport served areas to protect their existing service areas.

Wallsten says a collaborative, iterative process – like the FCC’s challenge process – is key: “Better and more up-to-date information can come from harmonizing existing data sets about internet access, updated whenever a given map has new information.”

This isn’t Wallsten’s first criticism of Washington’s mapping strategy. At TPI’s Aspen Conference last year, he told Broadband Breakfast that mapping errors led to many avoidable defaults on Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grants.

TPI also created the Broadband Connectivity Index, a dataset which maps the speed and availability of internet, as well as a detailed broadband map.

Broadband Mapping

Efficacy and Timeline of FCC’s Challenge Process Questioned by State Officials, Industry Experts

The challenge process is important because mapping is a “zero-sum game,” panelists said.

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WASHINGTON, January 13, 2023 — As the next deadline for challenging the Federal Communication Commission’s national broadband map arrives on Friday, state broadband officials and industry experts still have questions and concerns about the overall process, according to panelists at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday.

Much of the urgency surrounding the challenge process stems from the fact that the map will be used to determine the allocation of $42.5 billion in funding from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. Limited resources and contractual restrictions have barred several states from being able to challenge data that they argue contains significant mistakes and omissions.

The allocation of BEAD funding is “definitely a zero-sum game,” said J. Randolph Luening, founder of BroadbandToolkit.com.

“If everyone presents new locations and new underserved and unserved areas in the same proportions, then nothing changes,” Luening said. “But… if you’re a state broadband office, you do want to be diligent to try to discover those areas within your bounds because they’ll result in, on the margin, a significant number of dollars if you do a good job.”

Although challenges will be accepted on a rolling basis, the NTIA has announced that challenges should be submitted before Friday, January 13, in order to be reflected in the map used for BEAD funding. allocation

However, there is some confusion over exactly which types of challenges are included in this deadline. The fixed-broadband portion of the FCC’s map includes the “fabric,” which is a dataset of locations at which broadband is or could be installed, as well as provider-reported availability data.

Difference between fabric (or location) challenges and availability challenges

Availability, or coverage, challenges submitted by Jan. 13 will be factored into the BEAD allocation map. But according to Meghan Grabill, geospatial data analyst for the Maine Connectivity Authority, the cutoff for fabric (or location) challenges to be included in the BEAD allocation map was Oct. 30.

In an email after the Broadband Breakfast event, Grabill attributed this information to statements made by multiple officials during “office hours” held by the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as in private meetings.

Meghan Grabill

The few states who were able to submit location challenges before that date are now far ahead in the “zero-sum game” of obtaining funding, Grabill said.

An October location challenge deadline was not formally communicated by the NTIA or the FCC. Several state broadband offices have continued to prepare location challenges under the assumption that anything submitted by Jan. 13 will be used for BEAD allocation.

On Jan. 5, the two senators from Nevada — Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto — wrote in a letter to the FCC that the map was “deeply flawed,” pointing to “missing serviceable locations” and noting that the discrepancies could cost Nevada millions of dollars in federal funding. In order to combat these shortcomings, the senators asked for a 60-day extension of the challenge period.

This extension request was echoed by an open letter signed by local governments and organizations in 19 states and Washington D.C.

Several other states have issued statements highlighting the January cutoff, such as a Jan. 4 press release from the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority asking residents to “submit their challenge by the Jan. 13 deadline so the commonwealth receives enough federal funding to expand broadband access.”

The communications from Pennsylvania, Nevada and several other states include explicit reference to location challenges — indicating a belief that both availability and location challenges submitted by Jan. 13 will be included in the BEAD allocation map.

Grabill said she had mixed feelings about a potential extension, noting that while it would be a good opportunity for the office to engage with citizens, it wouldn’t have a major impact on BEAD allocation because “location challenges were kind of where the battle was won.”

Questions remain about the overall efficacy and purpose of the challenge process

Some experts have argued that the challenge process doesn’t matter because the map is consistently inaccurate across every state.

Garland McCoy, executive director of the Precision Ag Connectivity Act Stakeholder Alliance, expressed doubt about the impact of the challenge process on BEAD allocation, saying that whether the deadline passed months ago or whether it will be extended another 60 days is unlikely to “make any difference whatsoever.”

Grabill disagreed with that premise. “People have tried to investigate whether we’re all skewed equally, and I think the answer is no — there’s some winners and there’s some losers in the ‘skewed-ness’ of the fabric and who got noted as served and unserved,” she said.

Even if participation in the challenge process will not yield a higher share of federal funds, states still have reason to actively pursue an accurate map, McCoy said. Local entities should be preparing for the “internal battle that’s going to be taking place within the state maps” when it comes to the division of funding between urban and rural areas.

Unless rural counties actively push for their unserved and underserved populations to be included in the mapping and planning processes, they will not receive the appropriate allocation of funding, particularly because internet service providers lack financial incentive to serve remote locations, McCoy said.

Because the FCC is not requiring providers to formally respond to crowdsourced data, state officials and other actors may feel less motivation to aggressively pursue those challenges, Luening said. However, that data can still prove valuable in certain situations.

“If you’ve got a large area where you have many ISPs who are claiming to provide service, and you have no crowdsourced data points showing that level of service, then it will seem that that’s a pretty good argument that it may not be there… Even though it’s been categorized as a second-class citizen in terms of the FCC response, [crowdsourced data is] still a very powerful tool,” Luening said.

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, January 11, 2023, 12 Noon ET – How to Challenge the FCC’s Broadband Map

In November 2022, the Federal Communications Commission published the first draft of its new national broadband map, which displays data for fixed and mobile broadband. In addition to provider-reported availability data, the fixed-broadband portion of the map includes the “fabric,” a dataset of locations at which fixed broadband “is or could be installed” that was constructed by CostQuest Associates — not without some controversy. The map is important because its data will likely factor heavily into the distribution of broadband grant funding, but many state broadband officials have said the processes through which the map’s accuracy can be challenged are difficult and complicated. In this Live Online event, a panel of experts will review the controversies surrounding the FCC’s map and discuss the various challenge processes.

This FREE Broadband Breakfast Live Online event will feature insights from the exclusive Broadband Breakfast Club report for the month of January. Access the full report by registering here.

Panelists

  • Meghan Grabill, Geospatial Data Analyst, Maine Connectivity Authority
  • J. Randolph Luening, Founder, BroadbandToolkit.com
  • Garland McCoy, Executive Director, Precision Ag Connectivity Act Stakeholder Alliance
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

Meghan Grabill is the Geospatial Data Analyst for Maine Connectivity Authority, where she is responsible for data management and analysis to ensure everyone in the state of Maine has access to affordable, accessible, high-quality broadband.   With a background in geography and planning, she brings a unique blend of skills and experience to the position with training in spatial analysis and community development.  Previously Meghan worked for the Island Institute as a community development officer.

J. Randolph Luening is founder of BroadbandToolkit.com (video), a “commercial mapper” that provides analytical planning tools to the telecommunication industry to help state broadband offices, investors, grant applicants, engineering firms and ISPs in BEAD / CPF and others in infrastructure and funding-related decisions. He has enjoyed a 35-year carrier in the fixed, mobile, and satellite telecommunications, doing business in the U.S., Europe and Asia. His education includes a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering (Duke University), Masters of Engineering in Electrical Engineering (Cornell University) and an MBA in Marketing (Wharton School of Business).

Garland T. McCoy, co-founder and executive director of the Precision Ag Connectivity and Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance, is a long-time nonprofit 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.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Photo illustration by Em McPhie/Breakfast Media/Adobe Stock

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

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

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Broadband Mapping

FCC Broadband Challenge Data May Be Evaluated Post-Deadline by the Commerce Department

States facing difficulties collecting coverage data may have more time to present challenges.

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Photo of Jake Varn, principal associate Pew Charitable Trusts

WASHINGTON, January 10, 2023 – Challenge data for the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband availability map submitted after the January 13, 2023, deadline may still be evaluated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said experts in a Tuesday webinar hosted by National Broadband Resource Hub.

Those challenges submitted before Friday’s looming deadline will be considered in the version of the map that will guide the Commerce Department’s NTIA in divvying funds from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program in June.

Join the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, How to Challenge the FCC’s Broadband Map, on Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at 12 Noon ET.

State and local officials are clamoring to meet the January 13 deadline, but experts indicate that local maps need not be entirely up to date by Friday. Instead, officials should be primarily concerned with the portion of available funds allocated to the state, said Alex Kelley, head of broadband consulting at Center on Rural Innovation. Local-level officials should work to update maps prior to the allocation of funds from the state, he continued.

Next Century Cities representative Ryan Johnston added that it is never too late to collect data to be included in the next iteration of the map. He added that there is a possibility that the Commerce Department’s NTIA will consider data added post-deadline in fund allocations.

Crowdsourcing broadband data

States official attending the event expressed concern in collecting viable challenge data within a short timeframe. The primary data collection method for states previous to the FCC’s challenge process was speed tests, which are not being accepted by the agency, said Jake Varn, principal associate at Pew Charitable Trusts.

Instead, states must turn to bulk crowdsourcing by encouraging residents to submit challenges to the state. Evidence of unsupported claims may include a service provider denying service installation, failing to schedule a repair or installation within 10 days of a request, not appearing for a scheduled service, denying service claims, requesting more than the standard installation fee to connect the location, requiring new and non-standard equipment, or having no wireless or satellite signal available.

Ohio engineered a crowdsourcing program to reach those known unserved locations through mail with information on how to file a challenge via phone number or email, said Varn. Mississippi followed suit by establishing a hot line for unconnected residents to submit their filings.

Kelley suggested that states looking to improve crowdsourcing efforts involve more people and “tap into the grassroot energies already existing” in the community. Connect crowdsourcing to broadband initiatives that already exist, he suggested, make a culture and movement around broadband access rather than a one-time initiative.

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Broadband Mapping

What You Need to Know About the FCC’s Maps and the Challenge Process

The Broadband Breakfast Report for January 2023 lays out the things to know about the challenge process.

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Photo illustration by Em McPhie/Breakfast Media/Adobe Stock

The allocation of billions of dollars of broadband infrastructure money is contingent on the big update to the broadband map of the Federal Communications Commission, which has set Jan. 13, 2023, as the deadline for challenges to a preliminary version released on Nov. 18, 2022.

That deadline is intended to set a timeline for the version of the map — after challenges — that will guide the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a U.S. Commerce Department agency, in divvying out to the states by this June 30 the $42.5 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, which emerged from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of November 2021.

Join the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event, How to Challenge the FCC’s Broadband Map, on Wednesday, January 11, 2023, at 12 Noon ET.

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