A broadband mapping pilot project conducted on behalf of USTelecom, ITTA, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association over the past five months has demonstrated both that it is possible “to identify and precisely locate virtually every structure in a geographic area that is capable of receiving broadband”—that is, residential and business locations where broadband might be required—and that the FCC’s current census-block-level approach overstates the number of served locations by nearly half a million in Missouri and Virginia alone, according to the three trade groups.
The trade groups announced the launch of the “proof-of-concept” broadband mapping pilot project in March with a plan to use multiple data sources to show all serviceable locations, such as houses and small business, based not on addresses but on latitude and longitude. The resulting broadband serviceable location fabric could then be overlaid with data on service availability in a variety of formats, such as shapefiles or propagation maps (TR Daily, March 21).
In an ex parte filing today explaining the findings of their project, which they submitted in WC dockets 19-195, 11-10, 10-90, and 19-126, the trade groups said, “Our report shows that regardless of format of broadband reporting (shapefile, propagation map, address, etc.), the reliability and validity of reporting is driven by the quality of the underlying data. The Fabric provides this crucial, but presently missing, link. In addition to other important metrics, our Pilot shows as many as 38 percent of additional rural locations in Virginia and Missouri are unserved by participating providers in census blocks that would have been reported as ‘served’ in today’s FCC Form 477 reporting approach. These locations are homes and small businesses hidden from service providers and policymakers simply because of a lack of knowledge fueled by gaps in data—gaps that we can now fill.
“The Commission is currently seeking comment in the above-referenced proceedings on how to establish a national dataset of broadband serviceable locations, and how such information could be used to support broadband deployment through programs such as the recently announced Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. To inform these proceedings, we are pleased to submit this report for review by all stakeholders. We appreciate the Commission’s continued leadership to improve the information it collects on broadband availability and to close the digital divide,” they added.
During a webinar hosted by USTelecom today, Jim Stegman, president and chief executive officer of CostQuest Associates, which conducted the mapping pilot for the trade groups, said that 445,000 locations in Missouri and Virginia that were reported to be served on the FCC’s broadband map are unserved. He acknowledged that cable TV providers that also offer broadband service did not participate in the project, but he estimated that if their service availability were taken into account, there would still be more than 200,000 unserved locations that show up as served based on census-block reporting.
Mr. Stegman also said that the pilot found that 25% of the locations identified by carriers’ longitude and latitude geocoding “are off by more than 100 meters” from the actual locations of the structures.
He emphasized that “distance matters,” as such errors can place the location in a different census block, injecting further inaccuracies into the broadband map. In addition, he pointed out that carriers would rely on distance from roads and existing infrastructure in developing their bids in reverse auctions for universal service support.
According to the webinar presentation slides, issues to be considered in moving from the pilot project to a national fabric mapping effort include address data normalization, such as creating address format standards for carrier filings and identifying multi-dwelling units; the definition of a serviceable structure; and the requirements for the assignment of structures into residential and business categories.
Mr. Stegman estimated the upfront cost of developing a national location fabric at $22 million to $24.5 million if open source data is used and $8.5 million to $11 million if proprietary database information is used.
In a statement, USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said, “This new mapping solution is a game-changer for rural Americans. We are ready to hand it off to our government partners to ensure agencies, policymakers and providers are empowered with good data to connect more communities to the power and promise of broadband, while ensuring every single dollar of federal broadband support finally can now be accurately targeted and effectively deployed where it needs to go most urgently and quickly.”
ITTA President Genny Morelli said, “Now that the success of the Pilot Program has shown that an accurate and comprehensive nationwide broadband map can be created in a timely and economically reasonable manner, it is time for federal policymakers to embrace the Consortium’s mapping solution which will ensure that federal support is properly targeted to bring broadband to unserved American consumers. Consumers, especially those living in rural areas, have waited long enough for the broadband they need to fully participate in today’s digital world.”
WISPA President and CEO Claude Aiken said, “Addressing the rural digital divide demands the clearest picture possible to see all the facts on the ground. Blurry, out-of-focus snapshots will not do. We’ve seen their result—nearly 20 million rural Americans still lack broadband today. Our Broadband Mapping Initiative changes that. It employs multiple, overlapping datasets to create a high-definition picture of today’s complex broadband marketplace. It trades in dull reading glasses for a microscope. The resulting resolution will eliminate the opacity once guiding policy, helping policymakers and providers see that truly unserved and underserved rural communities receive the broadband they deserve.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews FCC BroadbandDeployment
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