After Controversial Panel on Mapping, FCC Confirms No Charges for Access to Fabric

Some third parties are wondering about the terms on which they will be able to access the FCC’s mapping fabric.

After Controversial Panel on Mapping, FCC Confirms No Charges for Access to Fabric
Photo of Nick Alexander of the NTIA (left) and Kirk Burgee of the FCC at AnchorNets 2022 by Broadband.Money.

CRYSTAL CITY, Va., October 13, 2022 – Representatives from the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Wednesday dodged questions regarding the licensing agreements that will govern access to the national broadband map’s fabric’s data.

But responding to a question from Broadband Breakfast following the non-responsive answers, an FCC spokesperson on Thursday said that state, local and Tribal governmental entities, along with broadband service providers, are able to license broadband fabric data – including any changes to fabric data that have been made as a result of challenges – at no cost.

The FCC spokesperson also said that the agency will make broadband fabric data available soon, also at no cost, to other parties for the purposes of their participation in the Broadband Data Collection process.

The spokesperson did not explain what other parties, and what purposes, will be deemed sufficient to access broadband fabric data at no cost.

Wednesday panel discussion at AnchorNets

Kirk Burgee, senior counsel for the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force, and Nick Alexander, telecommunications policy specialist for the NTIA’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, discussed broadband mapping and funding issues at AnchorNets 2022, a conference of the non-profit Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

The panel covered a range of topics, including the release of the FCC’s broadband map, the treatment of speed test data in the agency’s fabric-challenge process, and the funding-allocation process for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. BEAD is the $42.5 billion program of the NTIA for allocating last-mile broadband funds.

During the talk’s question-and-answer section, Jase Wilson, CEO of Broadband.Money, asked the panel to specify who owns of the fabric’s data. Broadband.Money is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

The fabric is a location-level broadband dataset created by contractor CostQuest Associates. It is the basis for the FCC’s forthcoming national broadband map, which will in turn determine the allocation of BEAD to particular states.

The fabric’s data is not public: It is available only to state and local and Tribal governments, and to internet service providers, who may challenge its accuracy on a rolling basis.

The panel didn’t directly address Wilson’s query. “In terms of who owns [the fabric’s data], I have some thoughts on that,” said Burgee. “I don’t know if there is a succinct answer to that question,” he added. “It’s probably pretty complicated.”

Burgee continued, saying the FCC has a “strong ownership in [the fabric data]” but did not provide specifics.

“Under the terms of the license agreement that the commission has with CostQuest, to the extent that there is data that comes through the FCC’s process, that data is held by the FCC but CostQuest… should use it in the production of the fabric,” said Alexander.

Alexander did not mention that CostQuest owns the initial fabric’s data and may use FCC-owned, challenge-generated data in its own private-market products.

Will states need to pay to use the fabric’s data?

Alexander declined to answer a question – from Dustin Loup, project manager of the National Broadband Mapping Coalition – about whether fees had to be paid to CostQuest to use the data for BEAD-related purposes, but suggested states could use BEAD funds to pay for “the tools they need.”

He didn’t specify whether that statement directly referred to potential state payments to CostQuest for use of the fabric’s data.

When Loup reiterated his question, Alexander answered, “It’s a completely reasonable question. It’s also one that I can’t answer.”

Will proprietary data be safeguarded?

Broadband Breakfast asked the panel if the FCC placed limitations on CostQuest’s use of challenge-generated data.

Alexander responded that “limitations” on CostQuest’s data use exist but offered no specifics. He didn’t acknowledge CostQuest’s ability to use challenge-generated data for commercial purposes.

In response to Broadband Breakfast’s inquiry regarding CostQuest’s licensing agreements, the FCC spokesperson did not address whether the usage limitations of those licenses or the contractual limitations on CostQuest’s commercial use of challenge data would impact other parties’ ability to access fabric data.

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