Broadband Mapping By and For Communities
Friday, September 30, 2022
Broadband Mapping By and For Communities
You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.
Round-Up for the Week of September 26-30, 2022
On Monday, September 26, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Director of Research and Fellowships Dr. Revati Prasad hosted an online panel discussion, From the Ground Up: Broadband Mapping By and for Communities, on how communities and states are collecting data on local broadband availability as the Federal Communications Commission rolls out the Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program. The panel was moderated by Dustin Loup, the Program Manager at the National Broadband Mapping Coalition, the event's co-sponsor. He framed the discussion by highlighting that inaccurate broadband deployment data has not only overestimated the percentage of U.S. households with access to broadband, it has also prevented some communities from being eligible for federal and/or state programs that subsidize broadband network buildout.
In accordance with the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is dramatically reforming its process of collecting and displaying the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services. The Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program, we hope, will give the FCC, industry, state, local and Tribal government entities, and consumers the tools they need to improve the accuracy of existing maps. The first public version of the new FCC map is expected in November, with a challenge period to follow.
Most immediately, the $42.45 billion Congress made available to states, territories and tribes cannot be allocated until the FCC updates its maps, identifying communities that lack any access to reliable broadband service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream (deemed "unserved") and 100 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream (deemed "underserved"). The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will allocate support to all 50 states, Washington (DC), Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands based on each one's unserved and underserved locations. But local governments, broadband service providers, and nonprofit organizations can challenge these states and territories over whether or not an area is unserved or underserved.
The panel included:
- Shayna Englin, Director, California Community Foundation Digital Equity Initiative
- Brian Whitacre, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University
- Lonnie Hamilton III, Broadband Planner, Office of Broadband, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
- Eduard Bartholme, Senior Outreach Director, Broadband Data Task Force, Federal Communications Commission
- Sarah Morris, Senior Advisor, Office of the Assistant Secretary, National Telecommunications and Information Administration
- Lai Yi Ohlsen, Data Scientist, Measurement Lab
Englin discussed the Digital Equity Initiative's efforts to understand access, affordability, and adoption in Los Angeles County's low-income communities and communities of color. She lamented that actual household-by-household access and pricing data is not being collected, but stressed that is what is really needed to address systemic underinvestment in connectivity infrastructure, leaving communities with slower, less reliable, and more expensive internet.
The FCC has created what's called a broadband serviceable location fabric, a dataset of all locations or structures where broadband could be provided. Whitacre has studied how the fabric captures serviceable locations in Oklahoma (see, for example, The Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, Rural America, and Agriculture). He voiced concern that the fabric may not identify agricultural structures, likely hampering a state from receiving support to extend service to these locations.
The Virginia General Assembly tasked the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) with developing a statewide broadband availability map indicating broadband coverage, including maximum broadband speeds available in service territories in the Commonwealth. DHCD collected location-based data from nearly all broadband providers in the commonwealth, tabulated the data, and published the map earlier this year. Hamilton touted the map as the best in the country and noted how it has improved applications for the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI), which prepares communities to build, utilize, and capitalize on telecommunications infrastructure with the goal of creating strong, competitive communities.
Bartholme acknowledged the problems with the previous ways the FCC collected broadband data. He stressed that the shift to location-based broadband data is a positive development. He also noted that the data for the first time can be reviewed and challenged by communities, government bodies, and others. He highlighted the two types of challenges the FCC will review 1) to the fabric itself and whether or not an address is a broadband-serviceable location and 2) "Fixed Availability Challenges" and whether or not a particular location has access to fixed broadband service.
Morris outlined how initially the FCC data and maps will face challenges at the FCC. Then the process moves to states and territories that will use the FCC data to identify, first, the unserved areas in their jurisdictions that will receive priority for BEAD program support. States will, as noted above, run their own challenge processes. Those processes are subject to NTIA review and approval. NTIA is encouraging states and territories to engage the public in these processes and planning efforts. Successful challenges in any state or territory will be reviewed by the NTIA.
What can speed test data tell us about broadband availability? Well, of course, you need a connection to run a speed test. But speed tests also help determine how useful a service is for bandwidth-intensive applications. Measurement Lab aims to empower consumers with useful information about their internet service performance. Ohlsen advocated for incorporating service speed data into all parts of the mapping and challenge processes. She believes it is both necessary and complementary to broadband service providers' data.
For more coverage of the event, see Communities collect granular broadband data amid wait for better federal maps or watch it in full on YouTube.
- Next Update of FCC Broadband Map Likely Won’t be a Moment to Celebrate (telecompetitor)
- FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Welcomes Bambi Kraus as Chief of the Office of Native Affairs and Policy (FCC)
- US defeats Russia to head UN telecoms agency in fight for internet’s future (Politico)
- FCC Proposes Improved Communications Access for Incarcerated People (FCC)
- Sens Warner, Moran Introduce Legislation to Prevent Taxation of Broadband Grants (US Senate)
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
- Bridging the Digital Divide in Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Communities in the South (Southern Rural Development Center)
- Network Investments, Staff Challenges and More: 2022 Telecommunications Benchmarking Study (Moss Adams)
- Community-wide broadband adoption and student academic achievement (Telecommunications Policy)
- Court Denies LightBox’s Motion for Judgment on FCC's Broadband Fabric Contract (US Court of Federal Claims)
- Spectrum Allocation in the United States (CTIA—The Wireless Industry)
ICYMI from Benton
- Black Churches 4 Digital Equity Connects Communities to the Affordable Connectivity Program (Grace Tepper)
- A Proposal to Create the Foundation for Digital Equity (Kevin Taglang)
- Prison and Jail Phone Justice Advocates Applaud FCC’s Action to Affirm Rights for People with Disabilities
Oct 5—Affordability & Trust: Tips for Impactful Digital Inclusion Work (EveryoneOn)
Oct 6-7—Navigating the Funding Flood (Oregon Connections)
Oct 12—25 Years of E-rate: A Reception and Celebration (SHLB Coalition)
Oct 13—2022 Wireless Spectrum Update (Keller & Heckman)
Oct 17—Changing Our (Virtual) Reality: Telehealth and the United States Maternal Health Crisis (Next Century Cities)
Oct 19—Spectrum Summit (Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy)
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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