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Broadband Mapping & Data

Commercial Mapping Products Positioned to Compliment, Challenge FCC Map

Commercial mapping products are emerging as complementary resources for both industry and government players.

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Photo of J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2022 – Although the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is statutorily bound to rely on the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map when dividing the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment fund among the states, private sector broadband mappers are positioning their own products as complementary resources for both industry and government players.

The FCC’s map went live Friday. J. Randolph Luening, founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, on Monday told Broadband Breakfast he has already incorporated data from the map into his “Infrastructure Essentials BEAD Toolkit,” which provides block-level coverage data as well as information on population density, income distribution, federal funding programs, and more. Luening said his toolkit aims to integrate all data that is relevant to BEAD-related decision making.

Another company that does mapping, Broadband.Money, is framing its product as a means by which to challenge the FCC’s data. The platform announced Thursday that subscribers can access features that enable analysis of location-level data, multi-unit locations, and anchor institutions.

Earlier this month, the NTIA said it plans to announce BEAD allocations by June 2023 and encouraged the public to submit challenge data by January to ensure they are processed in time to affect funding decisions.

NTIA head Alan Davidson, like the FCC, emphasized the importance of a robust challenge process: “The next eight weeks are critical for our federal efforts to connect the unconnected,” he said.

“The FCC’s upcoming challenge process is one of the best chances to ensure that we have accurate maps guiding us as we allocate major…awards in 2023,” Davidson argued. “I urge every state and community that believes it can offer improvements to be part of this process so that we can deliver on the promise of affordable, reliable high-speed internet service for everyone in America.”

CostQuest Associates, the creator of the fabric, and competitor LightBox also offer commercial mapping services. CostQuest beat out LightBox for the FCC’s fabric contract and staved off LightBox’s attempt to challenge the decision.

Broadband.Money, LightBox, and Broadband Toolkit are sponsors of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Some States Confused about Changes to NTIA Model Challenge Process

The new guidelines specify that only subscribers of 100 * 20 Mbps service will have speed tests accepted.

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Screenshot of the FCC broadband map website

WASHINGTON, September 20, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Association has changed the model challenge process for main broadband program to specify that the agency’s standard will only accept speed tests from locations with extremely high-capacity broadband.

The new guideline, which the NTIA characterizes as a clarification, means that only subscribers of service at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) upstream and 20 Mbps downstream will have their speed tests accepted.

This specification means that all those considered “underserved” will not be eligible to challenge actual speed measurements with speed tests.

The agency’s model process under the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program was first released on June 28 as a template for states to accept and process challenges to their broadband map data ahead of allocating their portions of the $42.5 billion in BEAD funds.

Speed tests, conducted by subscribers while meeting certain methodological standards, show their actual internet speeds are one form of evidence states can accept in these challenges. The program considers areas with access to speeds in excess of 100 Mbps upload and 20 Mbps download – 100 * 20 Mbps – to have adequate broadband access and makes them ineligible for funding. Money is targeted at areas receiving speeds below 100 * 20 Mbps, called “underserved,” and areas receiving below 25 * 3 Mbps, called “unserved” areas.

Other ways to challenge reported coverage

There are other ways reported coverage can be challenged. The availability of reported coverage can be contested, for example, with evidence providers do not offer plans at the speed they are recorded as providing in government data.

The initial release of the model process included the sentence “If the household subscribes to a speed tier of between 25/3 Mbps and 100/20 Mbps and the speed test results in a speed below 25/3 Mbps, this broadband service will not be considered to determine the status of the location.”

In the updated version — changed on August 30, 2023, according to the NTIA’s change logs — does away with this, specifying “only speed tests of subscribers that subscribe to tiers at 100/20 Mbps and above are considered.” 

Screenshot of the updated model challenge process language.

That means, for example, speed tests from a subscribers to a 80 * 10 Mbps plan showing they receive speeds of 23 * 2 Mbps would not be accepted. Only tests from subscribers to 100 * 20 Mbps or faster showing lower speeds would count toward changing that location’s service designation.

The NTIA said this update does not constitute a change in policy, but was made to clarify an existing rule: only locations marked as served can challenge on the basis of speed.

Screenshot of the original model process, stating speed tests from subscribers between 100*20 and 25*3 Mbps showing actual speeds below 25*3 could be used to disqualify the advertised coverage.

The new specification has caused confusion

This has caused confusion in some state broadband offices. Jessica Simmons, executive director of the Georgia Broadband Program said her office was under the impression that consumers who subscribe to an internet plan offering speeds in the underserved range could submit – through an allowed challenger like a nonprofit or state government office – speed tests showing that they receive speeds below the unserved threshold.

“Rather than clarification, it did seem like a policy shift to us,” she said. “We believed it seemed clear that an underserved location could be changed to unserved.”

States are required to submit their challenge processes in the first volume of their BEAD initial proposals – documents outlining implementation plans for the program – on December 27.

Georgia released volume one of its proposal on Tuesday. Simmons and her four-person team made sure to change the language in their proposal to reflect the new model process.

“If it’s coming from the NTIA, you know, we’ve got to get our plan approved,” she said.

In total, 14 states and Puerto Rico have released their volume one. They all base their challenge processes heavily on the NTIA’s model, with all but three adopting it in full. Vermont, Delaware, and Ohio made minor changes that do not relate to speed test processing.

Eight use the language around speed tests from the original model.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Broadband Breakfast Webinar on Broadband Geospatial Planning

A tutorial for investors, broadband providers, and political leaders

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Broadband Breakfast is pleased to host a webinar on Broadband Geospatial Planning: A tutorial for investors, broadband providers, and political leaders.

The event, featuring the BroadbandToolkit.com software, is free to attend and publicly available. It took place on Tuesday, September 12 at 2 p.m.

Signup to obtain a copy of the recording and the slides from the event.

The world is data-driven. As the broadband industry assembles to discuss BEAD implementation it is important to understand the essential role of data-driven planning. What kind of data exists? How can it be visualized? How can investors identify compelling opportunities? How can state leaders ensure that limited public funds are directed to projects that will cost-effectively improve the lives of many? How must state leaders prioritize expenditures to comply with BEAD rules? What analytical tools do governments and broadband providers need to make clear-headed infrastructure deployment decisions? How do economics drive decision-making? How can states properly incentivize the private sector to achieve public goals?

This tutorial will take a hands-on approach looking at available tools and data sets, using publicly available BroadbandToolkit.com software and a few other data sources. Participants will emerge with an appreciation of the available resources and how they might be used to answer critically important questions.

Signup to obtain a copy of the recording and the slides from the event.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Area Challenges Could be Key for State Mapping Efforts: Experts

The next phase of broadband mapping is going to be very much state-driven, said panelists.

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WASHINGTON, September 6, 2023 – An optional provision in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s model BEAD challenge process could be key for states as they work to create accurate broadband maps, experts said on Wednesday.

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program provides states over $42 billion to expand broadband infrastructure. Part of the implementation process involves consumers and providers submitting challenges to the state’s claim on whether a location is already served with an adequate internet connection

In the NTIA’s model challenge process – published in June as a template for states – if six or more locations in a census block group allege the same technology from the same provider is slower than state data indicates, an “area challenge” is initiated. This designates the entire block group as challenged. 

Normally, the challenger must provide evidence that their service is worse than advertised in order to successfully change their location’s status in the state’s data. But under area challenges, the provider must prove that they provide the reported service to the entire census block.

“It’s really important to think about the area challenge,” Dustin Loup, director of community development at Ready, a software company that makes tools for state broadband offices and grant applicants, said at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. 

He emphasized that the area challenge provision would allow states to collect information on areas that might be labeled incorrectly by using broadband providers’ infrastructure rather than crowdsourcing speed tests from individual consumers.

“There’s no way you’re going to be able to go out and collect data for 500 locations in a census block group,” he said. “But you can almost certainly find six willing participants.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband coverage map – known as the fabric – is widely alleged to be inaccurate. That makes state and local efforts to collect accurate coverage data essential for getting BEAD-funded projects in areas that need them, according to other experts at the event.

“This is a big, big issue,” said Tom Reid, founder of broadband consulting firm Reid Consulting Group. “It is going to be very much state-driven.” 

“The state challenge process is essentially an acknowledgement that the FCC maps don’t go far enough,” Loup added.

States are not required to use the NTIA’s model process, and those that do are not required to enforce the area challenge provision, but they are required to submit detailed plans for a challenge process with volume one of their initial BEAD proposals. 

Those proposals are due December 27. Some states, like Virginia and Louisiana, have released these ahead of schedule and are adopting the NTIA model challenge process guidelines.

J. Randolph Luening, founder of BroadbandToolkit.com, a suite of mapping tools and datasets for state broadband providers, expressed concern that separate state methodologies could lead to more confusing about the true state of broadband coverage in the U.S.

Chris Scharrer, founder of rural broadband mapping company DCS Technology Design, emphasized the importance of requiring providers to provide evidence for their reported coverage, citing differences in ISP-reported speeds and those detected by on-the-ground testing.

Gerry Lawlor, co-founder of broadband mapping company Hexvarium, said the challenge process could end up distracting state broadband offices from working with providers to ensure coverage for the highest cost communities.

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 6, 2023 – What’s New in Broadband Mapping

The success of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program may hinge upon accurate data for distributing infrastructure funding. But broadband mapping remains a formidable challenge. The FCC’s broadband map has already served as the basis for state-by-state allocation decisions. But will one much-maligned tool be enough for state broadband offices as they formulate coverage areas within their states’ communities? Join a range of stakeholders for this special Broadband Breakfast Live Online as we all seek to understand the intricacies of broadband mapping through a range of software databases.

Panelists

  • Tom Reid, President and Founder, Reid Consulting Group
  • Dustin Loup, Director of Community Development, Ready.net. Coordinator, Broadband Mapping Coalition
  • Gerry Lawlor, Co-founder, Chief Executive Officer, Hexvarium
  • J. Randolph Luening, Founder and CEO, BroadbandTookit.com
  • Chris Scharrer, Founder, DCS Technology Design
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Tom Reid, President and Founder of Reid Consulting Group (RCG) has nearly 40 years of experience in the technology sector. His experience is extensive, advising both public and private-industry clients on strategic planning, technology architecture, competitive bidding, and project management. For fifteen years RCG has been in the forefront of broadband expansion, building deep experience in stakeholder engagement, GIS mapping, engineering, and statistical analysis.  RCG’s rigorous, multi-source mapping methodology can identify the true extent of broadband need in any region, providing a strong basis for state and federal investment.

Dustin Loup is the Director of Community Development with Ready.net. He also coordinates the Broadband Mapping Coalition and advises on the Digital Inclusion Leadership Program for the Marconi Society. Prior to joining Ready, Dustin served as the Broadband and Digital Equity Project Director for Washington State University Extension.

Very much the accidental telecom executive, Gerry Lawlor has started and led multiple ISPs both regionally and nationally. His broadband adventures started out of necessity after leaving Manhattan in 2011 for remote rural living on a pacific northwest island. Working with his local electric co-op, he led Rock Island Communications which has been one of the most successful Co-op led broadband initiatives. He moved to T-Mobile in 2018 and led the national development and deployment of its Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) line of business. Prior to making his mark in the telecom sector, Gerry led global businesses in the financial industry, where he developed his passion for bringing meticulous research and a unique, boundary-pushing approach to data analysis.

J. Randolph Luening is the founder and CEO of Signals Analytics, LLC and the creator of BroadbandToolkit.com, an entity that delivers powerful business planning tools to FCC auction participants and to others developing fixed or mobile telecommunication business cases.  Mr. Luening has contributed to the wireless telecommunications industry as an influential industry insider over the past three decades. An expert is mobile operator economics, his areas of focus include the economics of next generation mobile networks, small cells, emerging business models, and consumer behavior. Previously as a Senior Director at Vodafone, and more recently as a consultant, his work has benefited telecommunications operators in the US, Europe, and Asia.

Chris Scharrer started in the cable industry in 1978, as an installer, and held positions in construction, operations, and engineering, eventually becoming Division VP and CIO for a major, 800-person global professional services firm. Stepping away from the corporate world in 2008, Chris founded DCS Technology Design, within the professional services industry, to bring excellence in Telecommunication Infrastructure Design for all types of intelligent building and smart community applications. With Covid, and in response to the lack of reliable and trusted ISP service area maps, DCS refocused its mission to develop methodologies that produce highly accurate Rural Broadband accessibility data, and helping Michigan municipalities locate thousands of previously missed or mis-reported homes and businesses that do not have access to Broadband and qualifying them for needed grant funding, ensuring inclusive accessibility for all residents.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark 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.

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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