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Broadband Mapping & Data

On Broadband Maps, Data Management Over Time Even More Important Than Accuracy

Broadband leaders have ‘unrealistic expectations’ for mapping accuracy, panel hears.

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Photo of James Stegeman of CostQuest, Gerry Lawlor of Hexvarium, Bill Price of LightBox and Jase Wilson of Ready.net

HOUSTON, May 5, 2023 – The fundamental issue of the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband location fabric is not its inaccuracies but rather how the data will be managed over time, said mapping experts at a Broadband Communities event Wednesday.

The broadband fabric data is a dataset that maps all locations at which “fixed broadband internet access service has been or could be installed.” The FCC populates its National Broadband Map with the fabric data and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has committed to allocating federal broadband funding by June 30 based on a version of the map.

Since its initial roll-out and subsequent challenge process – in which providers and state broadband offices have been able to challenge coverage claims by submitting contrary evidence – many have complained about the map’s many inaccuracies.

“In that first version, we got feedback that there were issues with the data, that we missed points, and we did,” said James Stegeman, president of CostQuest, the mapping company that was hired to deliver the fabric data.

The second version of the map is “light years” ahead of the first version, said Jase Wilson, CEO of Ready.net.

Concerns about allocation decisions based on map

Concerns remain that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will base initial allocation decisions of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program on inaccurate maps which will impact states’ ability to get the funding they need to address the needs of their communities.

Ideally, there would be more challenge processes and versions of the map before allocating funds, Stegeman said in response to the concerns.

“Yes, there are going to be tiny inaccuracies [in the map],” said Gerry Lawlor, founder and CEO of mapping software Hexvarium, but the industry needs to move past the inaccuracies and address the “bigger challenge” of ensuring the data – and the detail behind it – is equally available to small and large providers to develop their business plans and financial models.

Not all audience members agreed with his assessment. “Let’s generate the most accurate maps that we can to ensure that state broadband offices have the data they need to allocate fundings,” said Scott Woods, president of public-private partnerships at Ready.net.

Woods pointed out that community anchor institutions and multi-dwelling units are often not accurately reflected in the map, which can present a barrier for states to receive accurate funding.

Community anchors are not considered broadband serviceable locations under the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection rules.

The fabric does identify some community anchor institutions, said Stegeman. The FCC provides guidelines on which locations are considered community anchor institutions and included on the map.

“The difference between the FCC’s fabric and what we found is not statistically significant,” said Bill Price of mapping software LightBox.

It’s important to address accuracy, he said, but people need to recognize how much time it takes to accomplish these big goals. It is good that the industry is complaining and pointing out problems, but people have “unrealistic expectations” for the map, he said.

“I think that most of the blame for the accuracy of the map is in the hands of the ISPs,” said Lawlor. In a competitive landscape, providers will not be completely forthcoming about the services they provide, he said.

That’s why the FCC needs to hold ISPs accountable and set a precedent for accuracy, he said:  “Is the FCC going to be willing to hold ISPs accountable and then can states fundamentally trust that to hold any grantee accountable for delivery to that location and monitor and manage that over time?”

Broadband Mapping & Data

Tribes Must Be Ready to Challenge State Broadband Maps: Tribal Ready

Tribes needs to be prepared to approach states on what coverage data is not included in state maps.

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Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia, Joe Valandra of Tribal Ready, Megan Beresford of Learn Design Apply, E.J. John of the American Indian Policy Institute (left to right)

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2023 – Tribal governments should gather broadband coverage data for the state mapping process, said Joe Valandra, CEO of newly formed Native American-owned data company Tribal Ready at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday. 

Historically, tribal data has been excluded or misinterpreted in broadband maps, he said. The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program will be allocated to subgrantees by state governments according to state broadband maps. 

Tribal governments need to be prepared to approach the state with a data-driven argument about what coverage data is not included in the state map and what changes need to be made, said Valandra. 

In turn, state broadband offices need to listen to tribes, added Megan Beresford, director of broadband programs at grant writing company Learn Design Apply.  

The $3-billion Tribal Connectivity Program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration received over $5 billion in grant requests from its application process last year. BEAD allocations, expected to be announced by the end of June, can play a part in addressing the undersubscription of funds to tribal programs, said E.J. John, senior research analyst at the American Indian Policy Institute. 

Other federal programs can also support tribal connectivity, said Beresford. The Affordable Connectivity Program allows eligible low-income households to get a discount on broadband of up to $75 per month on tribal lands. 

The NTIA announced in May nine new Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program grants of $500,000 each, bringing the program’s total amount disbursed to $1.77 billion.  

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, May 31, 2023 – Tribal Broadband Deployment

As the NTIA continues to issue awards from the first round of the $3 billion Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, how are the funded projects progressing? How will they interact with the other ongoing broadband initiatives, such as the Middle Mile and Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Programs?

Panelists

  • Lori Adams, Vice President of Broadband Policy & Funding Strategy, Nokia
  • Joe Valandra, CEO and President, Tribal Ready
  • Megan Beresford, Director of Broadband Programs, Learn Design Apply
  • E.J. John, Senior Research Analyst, American Indian Policy Institute
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources

As senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy, Lori Adams is a key member of the Nokia Government Affairs Americas Team. She is responsible for developing strategies and tools to enable increased company participation in state, federal, and international programs supporting infrastructure deployment by several of Nokia’s business organizations. Additionally, she focuses on external government relations and communications with stakeholders at all levels of government through direct engagement, filings, and participation in public forums.

Before leading Tribal Ready, Joe Valandra served as the executive director of the Native American Contractors Association (NACA). He also served as the managing director of VAdvisors, LLC, a specialty advisory firm in Washington, DC, and as the chief of staff for the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), a federal regulatory agency with Indian gaming oversight responsibilities. Joe has served in senior executive roles in private and public sectors, including as a board member of numerous companies in multiple industries.

Megan Beresford is the director of broadband programs at Learn Design Apply Inc (LDA). She joined the company mid-pandemic as the digital divide became glaringly evident. Since then, she and her team have helped states, public entities, tribes, and private internet service providers secure over $300 million in broadband infrastructure and digital equity funding.

E.J. John is the senior research analyst at the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University. He is a member of the Navajo Nation who uses his experience working in Tribal government and policy research to promote digital equity for Tribal communities.

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.

Painting by Paul Cézanne used with permission

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Broadband Mapping & Data

South Carolina’s Innovative Broadband Maps Verifies ISPs’ Internet Speeds

South Carolina performs mapping audits to hold ISPs accountable for coverage claims.

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Photo of Jim Strizinger

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2023 – South Carolina’s innovative state broadband map can accurately identify areas of over-reporting by internet service providers, the director of the state’s broadband office said in a Friday Ask Me Anything! session in the broadband community.

South Carolina processes the same data as does the Federal Communications Commission as it creates its broadband map. However, it also performs audits on the ISPs to ensure they are submitting accurate data. Hence, the state can determine errors in reporting data based on where the ISP’s networks had been deployed previously and where state investments have gone, said Jim Stritzinger, director of the state’s broadband office.

Providers are required to file amended returns with the FCC in the event that South Carolina’s state broadband office flags errors in their reporting information. Errors include misreporting of technology types.

If the reporting errors are not corrected, the state will report the defaulting ISP to the FCC, said Stritzinger, a software engineer with a passion for mapping broadband in the Palmetto state.

A big flaw of the FCC’s maps is that ISPs were able to report advertised speeds, which Stritzinger said were useless.

To enhance the accuracy and reliability of the maps, Stritzinger partnered with broadband data collection company Ookla, and integrated speed test data directly into the mapping system. More than 12 million Ookla speed tests have now been incorporated into the map, with some census blocks containing over 15,000 tests.

In 2021, South Carolina made the decision to no longer accept Digital Subscriber Lines as reliable service anywhere in the state. Doing so opened large regions of the state to investments, said Stritzinger, and will reduce the number of underserved locations.

The state’s next iteration of its map is set to come out sometime before June 30, and will be the state’s first address-level broadband map.

Stritzinger estimated that investments from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program will be deployed in 2025. In the meantime, the state will continue working to deploy the American Rescue Plan Act dollars, which allocated $25 billion in several broadband projects, $8 billion of which will go to states and local governments directly.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

In Ask Me Anything!, Jim Stegeman of CostQuest Says Broadband Fabric Will Improve

Fabric data will continue to improve with feedback implementation and process changes, said CostQuest CEO.

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Photo of Jim Stegeman, CEO of CostQuest

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2023 – There are unrealistic expectations for the broadband mapping process despite its continual improvement, said Jim Stegeman, president and CEO of CostQuest, the mapping company that was hired to deliver fabric data to the Federal Communications Commission, during an Ask Me Anything! event in the broadband community on Friday. 

“We will never get to allocation if we are after perfection,” said Stegeman, claiming that the company has been working hard to improve its processes over time.  

The broadband fabric data is a dataset that maps all locations at which “fixed broadband internet access service has been or could be installed.” The FCC populates its National Broadband Map with the fabric data. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has committed to allocating federal broadband funding by June 30 based on a version of the map. 

Since its initial roll-out and subsequent challenge process – in which providers and state broadband offices have been able to challenge coverage claims by submitting contrary evidence – many have complained about the map’s many inaccuracies. 

CostQuest maintains that the fabric identifies 99.3 percent of all broadband serviceable locations correctly and is “very good” where it stands. 

Fabric will be continual improved 

Stegeman outlined in his remarks areas in which the fabric and its processes will continue to improve in the coming iterations.  

Each version of the fabric implements feedback, he said. Version two incorporated over a million new BSLs, 178,000 of which came from the FCC’s challenge process and 860,000 from CostQuest’s internal efforts to improve the fabric.  

The FCC is currently in the process of releasing the next version of the National Broadband Map based on version two of the fabric data. This version of the map is expected to be the map which the NTIA allocates BEAD funding. 

Subsequent iterations of the map will support state deployment and challenge processes, said Stegeman. 

Version two also improved tribal land BSL identification by updating the logic that identifies whether a parcel of land holds a BSL and whether it contains multiple or single units. 

Furthermore, through contractual agreement with the FCC, CostQuest has retained a file – facetiously titled the detritus file – that stores information on where water towers, sheds, chicken coops, and other agricultural buildings are located.  

Precision agriculture, the process of using broadband to optimize agricultural production, requires broadband connection to these locations, often located miles away from homes and other BSLs. The FCC anticipates that this location data may be of future use, said Stegeman.

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