‘Not a Data Company’: LightBox Disappointed by Mapping Contract Denial

LightBox and CostQuest spoke to Broadband Breakfast after a decision to deny overturning the FCC’s mapping contract selection.

‘Not a Data Company’: LightBox Disappointed by Mapping Contract Denial
Photo of LightBox CEO Eric Frank

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2022 – Data company LightBox said it is disappointed with a government watchdog decision to deny its appeal for a Federal Communications Commission mapping contract, saying the winning bidder does not own the rights to the data it will collect for the agency.

“CostQuest does not own the data,” LightBox CEO Eric Frank charged to Broadband Breakfast in an interview, following a decision by the Government Accountability Office last month to deny LightBox’s appeal challenging the FCC’s decision to award the contract to CostQuest.

“Light Box is a data company. Our customers [have been choosing our data for years] on a national basis to do a lot of things: understanding points of interest, understanding location data, understanding routing, understanding logistics, understanding geospatial information,” Frank said. “That is our business. The FCC awarded a project to a consulting firm, not a data company.”

The GAO, which released its decision on February 24, said it found nothing wrong with the FCC’s November decision to award the contract to CostQuest, which will build what is called the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric. The fabric, required by the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, will provide the basis for the newer, more accurate map on which the dispersal of billions of federal broadband infrastructure dollars is dependent.

LightBox’s objections to CostQuest’s contract alleged that CostQuest uses data that is licensed from third parties who themselves did not have the rights to license the data. The watchdog said in its decision it does not have reason to believe that the data will be used to infringe on the rights of the data owners, adding it would “not reevaluate proposals, nor substitute our judgment for that of the agency, as the evaluation of proposals is a matter within the agency’s discretion,” referencing the scope of its investigation.

“[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 in the interview. “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.

Despite the decision, LightBox, which is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, is still working on creating broadband fabrics at the state level. In January, Montana’s Department of Administration announced that it had hired LightBox to create a statewide broadband map. The map will use LightBox’s proprietary data to allocate $266 million to improve broadband service to unserved and underserved communities.

In December, the real estate analytics company also launched its own national smart location fabric, which it said provides a more granular view of areas where coverage does not exist. The company said it has licensed the fabric to Georgia and Alabama.

CostQuest continued work on fabric despite appeal

On the other side, CostQuest – despite saying it had been slowed down by the appeal filed shortly after the contract award in November – said it had been working on the fabric even as the LightBox appeal was in the air.

“Over the past few months, we’ve move from version 3 to version 4 of our commercial BSL data set,” Mike Wilson, CostQuest’s vice president of business development, said in an interview with Broadband Breakfast. “We also aligned all of our other models and data layers with the BSL’s and into a full broadband fabric data suite. This includes fiber and fixed wireless cost modeling, service availability estimation, (likelihood of locations being served by broadband technology type), demographics, and more.”

To do this, CostQuest said it will collect broadband data collection filings submitted by ISPs from around the country. The FCC set a start period of June 30 to collect that data and a deadline of September 1, 2022 by which ISPs can submit that data. The first version of CostQuest’s fabric is due within 120 of the contract’s approval.

“This fabric will provide the common basis upon which all parties will report on and understand coverage at the location level,” Wilson said. “There’s much work to be done, and accurate data will support more well-informed decisions regarding funding, buildout, and other initiatives related to closing the digital divide.”

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