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States Could Face Legal Jeopardy From Challenging the Fabric: Chief Data Officer of Montana

‘If…you’re leasing that data from a private entity, you can’t just hand it over to another private entity.’

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WASHINGTON, October 26, 2022 – The State of Montana could be in violation of contractual obligations to a private partner if it fully participates in the Federal Communications Commission’s fabric-challenge process, Adam Carpenter, chief data officer of the Montana Department of Administration, said Wednesday.

Carpenter, speaking on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel, explained that some of the data Montana needs for challenges to the national broadband fabric is leased from a private partner. State–partner contractual obligations limit Montana’s ability to share that data with other commercial enterprises, Carpenter said.

However, CostQuest Associates, the FCC vendor which created and owns the initial version of the fabric, may lease the FCC-owned data submitted in the challenge process for use in its own commercial products, which means that some data from states’ private partners could end up in a competitor’s products.

“If…you’re leasing that data from a private entity, you can’t just hand it over to another private entity,” Carpenter said. “And that’s put us in a position where we’re either not going to challenge the FCC map, we’re going to violate our contract and we get sued, or we’re going to work some deal where we partially challenge the FCC map where it favors us.”

Screenshot of Adam Carpenter, chief data officer of the Montana Department of Administration

According to Carpenter, since many other states have leased mapping data from private partners as Montana did, this legal tension will likely limit state’s ability to submit fabric challenges and consequently lead to sub-par national mapping data.

Fabric-type data is the “core [intellectual property]” for the states’ mapping partners, Carpenter told Broadband Breakfast after the panel.

The fabric is a dataset of all “broadband serviceable locations” in America, and it will be the foundation upon which broadband coverage data is laid to create the FCC’s national broadband map. Based on this map, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will apportion $42.5 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program among the states for broadband deployment and other related projects.

The FCC did not respond to Broadband Breakfast’s request for comment.

Panel criticizes NTIA intention to spend big on CostQuest

The panel criticized the NTIA’s stated intention to obtain the fabric and related products for an estimated $49.9 million, which would be in addition to the original CostQuest–FCC contract for the fabric’s creation, tagged at $44.9 million.

“I still…have no clue what it is NTIA is buying for $50 million,” said Sascha Meinrath, Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University and director of X-Lab.

“There’s no justifying the $50 million problem,” Carpenter said. “It’s clearly a price that was not derived from the value of the product being sold…that’s usually called gouging.”

The NTIA did not respond to Broadband Breakfast’s request for comment.

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, October 26, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Challenging the Broadband Fabric

Discontent is rising about the Federal Communications Commission’s use of the so-called “broadband fabric” to measure the availability of broadband on an address-by-address basis. Many are concerned that the FCC is dismissing or minimizing the ability of consumers to bring speed test challenges to fabric data. Additionally, the private nature of the fabric is a concern to those who say publicly-available information is needed for building out broadband. What are the alternatives to the fabric, and how might the fabric be challenged at the FCC, the NTIA, state broadband offices, or in court?

Panelists:

  • Sascha Meinrath, Director, X-Lab and Palmer Chair in Telecommunications, Penn State University
  • Michael Kleeman, Professor, George Mason University
  • Scott D. Woods, Vice President for Community Engagement & Strategic Partnerships, Ready.net
  • Adam Carpenter, Chief Data Officer, Montana Department of Administration
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Sascha Meinrath is the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University and director of X-Lab, an innovative think tank focusing on the intersection of vanguard technologies and public policy. Prior to creating the X-Lab, Meinrath was vice president of the New America Foundation, where he founded the Open Technology Institute in 2008 and built it into one of the largest public interest tech policy organizations in Washington, D.C. He also founded the Commotion Wireless Project, which works around the globe to strengthen communities by providing tools to build their own local communications infrastructures, and co-founded Measurement Lab, a global online platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools that empower the public and key decision-makers with useful information about broadband connectivity.

Michael Kleeman is a serial CTO and has worked in networks across five continents and deployed fiber, long haul, local, middle mile and even submarine systems, since the mid 1980s. Kleeman has a deep understanding of network economics, both capital and operating, across a wide array of local, long distance and international geographies utilizing current and emerging technologies for transmission and network deployment. He is a professor of practice at George Mason University.

Scott D. Woods is the Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships for Ready.net, where he facilitates and develops key public-private partnerships formed via the Broadband.Money platform. He also focuses on providing a platform for local communities to express their needs for broadband access and digital equity investments, as well as developing industry partnerships, and fostering alliances with key stakeholders to advance and support community-based broadband education and advocacy initiatives.

With a background software engineering and data analysis, Adam Carpenter discovered Machine Learning (AI) when it was still in its infancy and found his passion. Impressed by the transformational power of AI early on, it quickly became clear that it is the last step in a long data maturity journey. Adam has since spent a career helping organizations through that journey so they can better use their data to serve their customers. After receiving the call to public service, Adam is now facilitating this journey for the state of Montana through this same journey.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. 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.

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 & Data

States Face Roadblocks in Challenge Processes, FCC Tries to Facilitate

The BEAD timeline looms large for many who worry that two months is insufficient time to correct the map.

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Photo of Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau

WASHINGTON, November 30, 2022 – As state broadband offices scramble to submit challenges to the national broadband map, the Federal Communications Commission is working to provide much-needed resources to help stakeholders through the often-opaque challenge processes.

The FCC’s new broadband map, released in November, provides location-level data of broadband availability nationwide. The map is comprised primarily of two datasets: a list of all broadband serviceable locations – the “fabric” – and provider-submitted availability data. The accuracy of both can be challenged by the public through designated processes.

The FCC has endeavored to create a consumer-friendly challenge-process, said Kirk Burgee, chief of staff for the Wireline Competition Bureau. “We do try to make the process as flexible and accessible as it can be consistent with getting effective challenges and resolving them correctly,” he explained.

Burgee spoke at an FCC webinar held Wednesday to demystify the fixed-availability bulk-challenge process.

The FCC’s availability data will largely determine the distribution of the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program among the states. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the subdivision of the Department of Commerce which administers the BEAD funds, has advised the public to submit challenges by January 13, 2022, to ensure they are considered for BEAD grants – scheduled to be announced in June.

The immediate stakes of accurate mapping

If the FCC’s data is inaccurate when the NTIA calculates the allocations, some states could be shorted on badly needed funding. Some industry players say the map is concerningly inaccurate, and others say the FCC’s challenge processes may prove prohibitively complex.

Georgia has yet to submit fabric challenges, although it intends to, wrote Joshua Hildebrandt, the state’s director of broadband initiatives, in correspondence with Broadband Breakfast.

“So far, we have encountered a number of hurdles that have made a quick challenge submission difficult to do,” Hildebrandt explained. “Georgia is fortunate to have a considerable amount of data, which helped us create one of the nation’s first public statewide address-level broadband service maps.

“However, even with all of this applicable data in-house,” he added, “The FCC’s process for challenging fabric locations on a one-by-one basis still requires substantial effort and time.”

“The fabric is an enormous challenge, but we are very disappointed in the quality of the fabric and, more importantly, the insistence on using it and moving forward,” David Lukens, Connecticut’s broadband-mapping coordinator, told Broadband Breakfast.

“The FCC’s burdensome challenge process incentivizes…challenges focused only on potential BEAD project area,” he added.

Several state broadband officials told Broadband Breakfast that they have, by necessity, thus far submitted fabric challenges primarily for unserved areas, leaving the FCC’s data for numerous locations in better-served areas uncorrected. Some say, however, that they will submit additional challenges going forward.

The challenge process may work, but some say time is running short for BEAD

Spokespeople for the FCC and CostQuest have routinely acknowledged the errors in the map’s first draft and urged stakeholders to submit challenges to correct them. Some experts, including Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute, say inaccuracies are inevitable, but the challenge process will largely ameliorate them in time.

The BEAD timeline looms large for many who worry that less than two months – the interval between the map’s November release and January 13 – is insufficient time to correct the map. And like any massive undertaking, smaller entities struggle to keep up.

Kansas’ broadband director, Jade Piros de Carvalho, told Broadband Breakfast her small team lacks the bandwidth to submit a bulk challenge at all. Piros de Carvalho has encouraged her fellow Kansans to submit their own challenge. “Currently the FCC shows KS at about 5 percent unserved. We are more likely closer to 15 percent unserved, and that difference will have a direct negative impact on the dollars we receive,” she wrote Monday.

Maine will take a multi-stakeholder approach that will mobilize communities and regional partners, Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, told Broadband Breakfast. In addition, the state itself plans to submit bulk-availability and fabric challenges by January 13, Butcher said.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Right Track or Wrong Track on Mapping? Panel 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 2 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.

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Video from Panel 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Moderated by David McGarry, Reporter, Broadband Breakfast, with Bryan Darr, Executive Vice President of Smart Communities, Ookla, Mike Conlow, Director of Network Strategy, Cloudflare, and Jim Stegeman, President, CostQuest Associates.

For a free article summarizing the event, see ‘It Is a Concern’: FCC Contractor Responds to Commercial Conflict Concerns Over Map Challenge Process: CostQuest’s CEO said states need to look at their vendors if they pose a problem challenging FCC map data, Broadband Breakfast, November 17, 2022

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC Maps Have ‘Misleading’ Satellite Claims, Need Clarity on Challenge Process: Advocacy Group

The commission published the initial draft of its map Friday, unleashing a storm of controversy in the industry circles.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – Advocacy group Public Knowledge alleged in a letter on Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission’s newly released map includes “misleading” coverage claims of satellite broadband providers and asked the commission to demystify the national broadband map’s bulk challenge process.

The commission published the initial draft of its map Friday, unleashing a storm of controversy in industry circles. While many agree that the map’s granular, location-level model is superior to the previous Form 477–based, census-block model, some worry that much the new map’s data is deeply inaccurate.

“State broadband offices, local communities, and community based organizations have noted a number of inaccuracies in the new broadband maps,” Public Knowledge wrote in its filing, authored by Jenna Leventoff of the advocacy group, and submitted on behalf of her, Harold Feld, and Greg Guice of Public Knowledge.

The group argued the map overestimates the capabilities of satellite broadband. “Satellite broadband, in theory, is capable of serving most locations in the country,” the filing reads. “However, in practice, satellite providers cannot serve the whole country at broadband speeds.”

The NTIA, in its notice of funding opportunity for the BEAD program, classified locations served exclusively by satellites as unserved. In August, the FCC rescinded Starlink’s $885 million grant from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, alleging unreliability. Besides private advocates such as think tank TechFreedom, FCC commissioners Nathan Simington and Brendan Carr have criticized the agency’s RDOF flip-flop. Starlink appealed in September.

Problems with the challenge process

Public Knowledge also took issue with the process by which the public can challenge the maps’ accuracy. “Although eager to challenge those inaccuracies,” it wrote, “Many expressed confusion over the bulk challenge process, with one even noting that they did not think it was possible.” The advocacy group also asked the commission to clarify the treatment of submitted speed test data.

The FCC scheduled a webinar on the bulk-challenge process for fixed-availability data for November 30, at 4 p.m. ET.

Regardless of accuracy, the FCC’s data will shape the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s state-by-state allocations from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, which are scheduled to be announced in June 2023. To ensure challenges are factored into the NTIA’s decision making, the agency has encouraged potential challengers to submit data before January 13, 2023 – less than two months after the map was made available.

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