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Broadband Mapping & Data

Nation’s Most Accurate Broadband Map Will Come from FCC Challenge Process: NTCA

‘Using the right information at the right time, we’re going to get to a better place.’

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Screenshot of Michael Romano, executive VP for NTCA.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s mechanism for challenging the agency’s mapping data will likely enable the creation of the nation’s most accurate broadband map to date, said Michael Romano, executive vice president for rural broadband trade association NTCA.

“The fact that we had all these funding mechanisms coming at the same time when they were required to use the maps, required in some ways the plane to be built as it was being flown,” said Romano at a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

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

“But as long as folks are faithful about using discipline, about using the right information at the right time, we’re going to get to a better place,” he added.

The FCC’s “fabric” – a location-level dataset that shows where connectivity is and is lacking – is not yet public, although the agency provided a preliminary version to state and local governments, providers, and other entities. These entities can issue challenges to the fabric – which started on September 12 – which the FCC said will be accepted on a rolling basis. The FCC says it expects to release its new maps in November.

Romano said he recognized the difficulties presented by the FCC’s Congress-mandated approach, including, he said, extended timetables, opaque data-gathering processes, and outright errors. However, he said, ongoing challenges – issued from a multitude of stakeholders – will over time be an effective corrective to the inevitable inaccuracies of the FCC’s initial map.

States also have their own challenge processes, said Romano, which will provide another opportunity to correct mistakes on the FCC’s map. “The states are going to be the final sanity check on should we really be giving money in these areas,” he said.

Criticisms of the FCC’s mapping methods

Many industry players have recently criticized the FCC’s mapping process. Jonathan Chambers, partner at telecom Conexon, previously stated that the fabric’s data is highly inaccurate, and has criticized the FCC and its partner CostQuest’s alleged secrecy during the fabric-making process.  

In recent months, internet service providers were required to report to the FCC all serviceable locations covered by their networks, reports that will be cross referenced with the fabric’s data.

A survey of ISPs conducted by Rick Yuzzi, marketing VP for Zcorum, pointed to the same conclusion, and more than fifty percent of respondents said their biggest challenge in the reporting process was either matching location addresses with the fabric’s dataset or outright FCC error.

Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, wrote this summer that Congress made a relatively high amount of error inevitable by requiring granular location-level mapping in the Broadband DATA Act – a position he reiterated at Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

Wallsten, like Romano, however, argued that the challenge process will eventually correct many of the errors in the current fabric.

Broadband Mapping & Data

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

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

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Photo of John Busby, the managing director of BroadbandNow

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

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

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

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

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

Advertised speeds vs. experienced speeds

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

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

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

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

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

BroadbandNow is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Licensing agreement between CostQuest and FCC impacts public

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

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

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

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

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

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

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

Panelists:

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

Panelist resources:

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

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

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

Dustin Loup is an expert on internet governance and policy and program manager for the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition. Much of his work centers on improving digital inclusion and establishing transparent, open-source, and openly verifiable mapping methodologies and standards.

White House photo from August 2021 by Adam Schultz

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Broadband Mapping & Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The importance of FCC and CostQuest’s mapping

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

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

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

LightBox is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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