Field Level Broadband Mapping Proposal

I have been working on the problem of broadband mapping accuracy since the summer of 2013 when the Gold County Broadband Consortia collected broadband survey forms at the Nevada County Fair. Plotting the information gathered at the Fair revealed some significant gaps in the California Broadband Maps. 

The GCBC worked with the California Public Utilities Commission staff to came up with a standard form which could handed out at community meetings to collect field level information on actual broadband coverage in the GCBC areas of responsibility, Sierra, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado Counties and eastern part of Alpine County The form was eventually put online, producing a spreadsheet that with a little clean up could be forwarded directly to the CPUC for inclusion on broadband maps.  Sample online map is HERE.

The problem of collecting field level data which show the real broadband coverage is a significant challenge for state and federal agencies responsible for producing accurate broadband maps. Maps which are essential for policy making and the equitable distribution of broadband subsidies.  I have been thinking about the problems for some time and propose the following solution.

In 1867, Oliver H. Kelley, an employee in the Department of Agriculture, founded the Grange. The Grange’s purpose was to provide farmers with an organization that could assist them with any difficulties that arose. One of the latest difficulties is the lack of broadband in rural communities. 

Rural Granges places them in the right location to participate in a grassroots field level broadband data collection program. Broadband access is becoming a component of modern agriculture, and the national Grange organization has highlighted the need for agricultural access to this critical infrastructure.  Granges have a vested interest in making sure broadband maps accurately reflect the real coverage.

According to the  National Grange Organization:

“. . .America’s most pressing broadband problem: our national need to expand high-speed Internet access across rural and underserved areas.”

State agencies responsible for broadband maps should consider developing a grassroots field level data collection program in conjunction with the State and County Granges in those counties with poor broadband coverage. The Granges collect the data in the field and state agencies consolidate the data in spreadsheets, create shape-files for submission to FCC/NTIA for publication of field level broadband data. 

With granges all across America, this program could be replicated in all states with large gaps in broadband coverage. This real-world data will help solve the national broadband mapping accuracy problem. 

This is a sketch of an idea, with lots of work and coordination ahead to create a fully functional program. Your thoughts?

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Connect America Fund Auction To Expand Broadband To Over 700,000 Rural Homes And Businesses

FCC Press Release

Auction Allocates $1.488 Billion To Close the Digital Divide

WASHINGTON, August 28, 2018—Over 700,000 rural homes and small businesses will gain access to high-speed Internet service for the first time through the Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction, auction results released today show, and more than half of those 713,176 locations will have service available with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second.

The auction allocated $1.488 billion in support to be distributed over the next 10 years to expand rural broadband service in unserved areas in 45 states. A total of 103 providers won support from the Connect America Fund to expand broadband in rural areas where, absent this funding, this type of broadband expansion and ongoing service would not be economically feasible.

“The successful conclusion of this first-of-its kind auction is great news for the residents of these rural communities, who will finally be able to share in the 21st-century digital opportunities that broadband provides,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “By tapping the mechanisms of the marketplace, the Phase II auction served as the most appropriate and cost-effective way to allocate funding for broadband in these unserved communities, bringing the highest-quality broadband services to the most consumers at the lowest cost to the ratepayer.”

[. . .]
As a result, 53% of all homes and businesses served with support from the auction will have broadband available with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second. 19% will have gigabit service available. And 711,389 locations—all but 0.25%—will have at least 25 Mbps service available, more than twice the 10 Mbps minimum standard for the Connect America Fund program.

[. . .]

Providers must build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses in a state within three years of becoming authorized to receive support. Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reach at the end of the sixth year.

[. . .]

More information is available HERE. A map of winning bids is available at HERE

California winners:

  • Cal.net, $5,051,665.17 serving 20,859 locations.
  • California Internet, $8,262,901.78 serving 10,922 locations.
  • Frontier Communications Corporation, $5,155.26 serving 23 locations.
  • Hankins Information Technology, $191,132.93 serving 1083 locations.
  • Viasat, Inc., $1,391,836.18 serving 18,795 locations.

California total win was $14,902,691.32 serving a total of 51,682 locations, with 40% build-out anticipated.

5G Is Going to Take Big Investment, How will it be Recovered?

There is growing discussion about the investment required to implemented 5G and how that investment is going to be recovered. Caroline Chan, Intel VP and GM of the 5G Infrastructure Division on the edge of 5G.

“How do 5G use cases benefit the enterprise?” she pondered during a panel conversation hosted by Cradlepoint in Austin, Texas, during a week of colocated 5G conferences. “That’s my personal interest–the enterprise edge. We all know that 5G, the way that we talk about, is going to take a lot of investment. Where are we going to get the return on investment?” Chan noted her involvement in 5G groups that look specifically at vertical use cases for automotive and industrial automation, for example. “The trick is, if you want to get more money, more than just a SIM card, you have to have enterprise,” she said.

More HERE.

My question is who is going to provide the investment for rural 5G? How will that investment go to be recovered, there are few automotive and industrial plants to automate and control through low latency IoT-type devices in rural communities? Low latency IoT applications is a core sales feature of 5G. How may low latency industrial applications exist in rural communities what would produce the revenue streams needed to recover the investment mentioned by Chan?

Rural communities need to examine their 5G expectations and consider some alternatives. Over 750 rural communities across the country have or are developing community fiber networks. More details HERE.

Small-Town Ingenuity Is Making Gigabit Broadband A Reality

With all the headlines about the lack of broadband in rural America, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all small towns are stuck in the dark age of dial-up internet.

The untold story of rural broadband is that over the past seven years, independent broadband networks have proliferated. Today, some of the fastest, most affordable internet in the country can be found in communities like Oskaloosa, Iowa (population:11,500); Powell, Wyoming (6,400); Red Wing, Minnesota (16,500); and Springfield, Vermont (9,000). According to a 2016 Federal Communications Commission data release, more than 1,100 rural fiber broadband providers operate networks of various sizes in some of the most remote parts of America, and more than 230 of those providers offer symmetrical (both download and upload) gigabit speeds.

Rural broadband deployment isn’t easy, but the biggest barriers to better connectivity are not simply geographical. Twenty-one states currently have laws—largely manufactured by telecom industry lobbyists—that impede independent ISPs trying to deploy fiber. Wilson, North Carolina, for example, was one of the first municipalities to build out a network and show that fiber to the home was possible in a rural town. But in response, lobbyists forced through legislation to restrict municipal networks in North Carolina. The absurd result of this was that the Wilson fiber network has actually had to shutter service for some of its customers.

[. . .]

Just how far and fast is rural gigabit-speed broadband being deployed? My organization, the Center on Rural Innovation, mapped it to learn more. Using the 2016 FCC data again, we found that more than 2,500 rural towns have access to fiber internet, representing more than 8.5 million rural Americans—a million more people than live in the Bay Area, including Silicon Valley. Of those, nearly 3 million have access to full symmetrical gigabit speeds. And though the gap between rural and non-rural fiber internet coverage is significant, it isn’t as overwhelming as many people think. More than 15 percent of rural Americans have access to fiber, compared with approximately 30 percent of people in suburban and urban areas.

Full article is HERE. This article mirror’s many of my thoughts on rural broadband band as critical infrastructure.

•  “Small towns and rural counties have leveraged their ability to issue inexpensive bonds to build world-class infrastructure.”

• “. . .generously fund construction of this kind of infrastructure just like it does for water and sewer capacity.”

Read the whole article!

Digital Cities: Building the New Public Infrastructure

Broadband section of white paper by CISCO.

Laying the Foundation: Public Wi-Fi and Next-Gen Broadband

At just 3 percent or, $59 billion, of Digital Value at Stake, public Wi-Fi and broadband offer modest direct value for cities. But that low percentage belies far more significant indirect benefits, which is why public Wi-Fi and broadband underpin our discussion of digital capabilities.

Direct benefits of municipal networks come mainly through avoiding the high costs of leased lines and carrier-provided network services. In some cases, such as the City of Santa Monica’s, the city itself acts as an Internet service provider to residents and local businesses, drawing in additional revenue.

Barcelona’s more than 300 miles of fiber optic cable, for example, enable its many smart services, including water, energy, waste, and transportation management, as well as open government. This network is critical to smart lighting, public Wi-Fi, and the city’s nearly 20,000 smart utility meters.

Santa Monica’s mayor, Tony Vazquez, stresses that the city’s extensive investment in fast broadband “returned significant benefits for our community health, safety, education, and wellbeing as well as for stimulating and sustaining our local economy.” He cites CityNet as the catalyst for a vibrant startup community that has been dubbed “Silicon Beach.”

Virginia Beach, Virginia, is laying hundreds of miles of fiber optic cable to link almost 100 municipal buildings with high-speed broadband. City officials anticipate that the network will promote economic and educational opportunities, while speeding emergency response times and enabling traffic management. It is also supports their strategy of bridging the “digital divide” to fight inequality.

As of 2017, Seoul is offering free Wi-Fi in every public place, including subway cars and buses. The city sees public Wi-Fi as a cornerstone of its Open Data Plaza, an online channel where information is shared on everything from economic opportunities to available parking spaces.

Guayaquil is expanding its fiber-optic network and will soon provide free Wi-Fi to the entire city. One of the many benefits has been a telemedicine capability that allows patients in local clinics to receive expert diagnoses from major hospitals.

Full paper can be downloaded HERE.

Rural communities need to fully examine the benefits of a public network as an economic development tool. Build it and the entrepreneurs will come.

Senate GOP To Trump Admin: Don’t Get Sloppy With Broadband

— Congress is angling to impose some training wheels on the Trump administration when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on broadband deployment. Lawmakers are eyeing the reconciliation process for the farm bill as a way to check the Agriculture Department, which manages various telecom subsidies through its Rural Utilities Service agency. “Appropriate guidance in the farm bill being reconciled and the department’s continued vigilance are critical to avoiding another boondoggle,” a Senate GOP aide told MT on Wednesday, referring to past alleged waste in the program.

— The negotiations come as Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and telecom subcommittee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) write a new letter cautioning Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to avoid duplicating any FCC efforts as it develops a rural broadband pilot program with $600 million Congress allocated for the purpose earlier this year. The lawmakers cite reporting from POLITICO on the mishandling of broadband funds under the Obama-era RUS, which some believe squandered hundreds of millions of dollars. Although Perdue previously has touted the Trump administration’s goal to better marshall existing funds, the lawmakers stressed some concerns: “While we know you are working to correct these past shortcomings … we strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to avoid the failures of the past Administration,” Thune and Wicker write.

— Thune has looked to GOP Commissioner Mike O’Rielly for guidance, questioning him on the topic last Thursday during an FCC oversight hearing. “There are some provisions in the farm bill that I appreciate,” O’Rielly told Thune. “I think they could go a little further.” O’Rielly said Congress should focus on making sure the money helps people who lack broadband options rather than subsidizing those who just have subpar internet service.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

I agree with this effort to ensure those without broadband have priority over those with sub-par broadband.

Community Broadband Networks

When big cable and the big telco will not provide broadband services at a reasonable cost, over 750 communities across the nation have built and operated their own broadband networks. Here is a short video explaining Community Broadband Networks.

This is a map showing the location and type of network, with the Legend below.

Community Networks

Community Networks LegendIt is time for all rural communities to evaluate their future telecommunications needs and determine if they are going to be left out of the G5 networks. They need to develop a strategic plan and explore the alternative to the G5 promises of the big telcos that will never be fulfilled. Community leaders need to examine the cables companies intent to reach all the citizens in the community. These cable and telcos are ROI driven, and many rural communities do not have the population density necessary to break through the benchmarks in the telco and cable company planning tools.

What is your community doing to bring broadband to all citizens? Waiting for 5G is not a solution it is a pipe dream, the only result will be frustration and disappointment.  Join the other 750 communities that have take control of their economic future.

Crowdsourcing More Accurate Broadband Maps

by Russ

Crowdsourcing, the practice of soliciting services, ideas or content from undefined groups both online and offline, is gaining in popularity among companies as an inexpensive way to accomplish costly or tedious tasks, like accessing key market intelligence.  

According to Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel the FCC should be mobilizing agency field offices across the country and making use of crowdsourced information on wireless broadband to increase the accuracy of broadband maps. 

I agree, the Gold Country Broadband Consortia effectively use crowdsourcing to identify unserved and underserved areas in Nevada County.  They purchased a booth at the County Fair and as participants to fill out surveys indicating their service provider and the quality of the service provided including estimated speed.  A contact telephone was included on the survey form for follow up.  About 350 forms were completed and the results plotted on an interactive ArcGIS map.  This map was shared with the California Public Utilities Commission.

A sample of the Nevada County survey map:

Nevada County Fair Sample
Red dots no service, blue dots underserved, filled dots served (6Mbps down, 1.5Mbps up)

 

Working with the CPUC the GCBC developed a standard survey form which GCBC launched as an online survey. Public meetings and newspaper articles were used to encourage Nevada County citizens to fill out the survey forms.  The result of these surveys were collected and sent to the CPUC for inclusion in the public input areas on the California Broadband Maps.

A sample of CPUC

Public Feedback Area Sample
High lighted areas are communities without out broadband that meets the minimum standard at the time the data was taken, this data is out of date today.

Crowdsourcing has worked in the past and can work again with a robust outreach program to advertise the existence of the program. Another critical element is an easy to use data input method.

Fiber Alternative in Rural Communities: Connectivity Matters

Article by Trevor Jones at Broadband Communities Magazine.

If your community is struggling with the economics of a townwide fiber network, you are not alone. The good news is that although wiring your whole town with fiber is the ideal solution, there are other options for getting broadband access to your constituents if you just can’t raise the funds – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

For as long as I have been engaged with community broadband networks, the technologies best suited for public investment have been a source of debate. Some believe public money should be invested only in fiber to the premises because fiber infrastructure investments have sufficient capacity to be future-proof for at least 20 years.

On the other hand, building fiber is expensive and time consuming, and a full-on commitment to a fiber-only solution probably means it will be many years before some areas see the kind of investment necessary to bring them improved service.

The Full article is HERE

Fixed wireless may also be a better solution than 5G for rural communities which lack the fiber infrastructure that 5G requires.

NTIA’s Request for Comments on Broadband Data Spurs Concerns About FCC’s Form 477

The Broadband Breakfast has the details. The following is excerpts:

According to US Telecom, the root of the problem is not “an inaccurate view of where broadband exists” but rather that “unserved locations are not mapped at all.” Because they are unmapped, the unserved areas remain excluded from policies to deploy broadband access.

“It is therefore our recommendation that NTIA concentrate its limited resources on augmenting the National Broadband Map with a more fulsome set of rural geocoded locations that may exist in the hands of other government entities,” US Telecom said.

[…]

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association expressed concern that new efforts by the FCC to collect more granular data could press heavy demands on small service providers, who may have difficulty collecting such specific data.

“Data-collection efforts that seek broadband deployment at the sub-census block level will create new burdens on small broadband providers that will be ill-equipped to provide information at a more granular level,” WISPA said.

WISPA also noted that obtaining granular data can be costly and time-consuming for small business who may have to purchase new software or upgrade existing technology.

If you cannot recognize the problem, it is impossible to fix. Accurate broadband maps of unserved and underserved are essential to sound policymaking at the national, state, county and town level. A highly publicized crowdsourced program could identify target areas for detail ground truth surveys with recorders to documents the underserved conditions.  It is time to stop talking and start acting.