C|NET: FCC leaders say we need a ‘national mission’ to fix rural broadband

 

C|NET BB

 

 

This is part of CNET’s “Crossing the Broadband Divide” series exploring the challenges of getting internet access to everyone.

Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel may disagree on the net neutrality angle, but they do agree on finding inspiration in the 1930s.

As anyone who’s ventured beyond major cities or population centers in the US can tell you, high-speed internet access is a luxury that millions of people don’t experience. According to data from the Federal Communications Commission, roughly 39 percent of people living in rural regions of this country lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just 4 percent of urban Americans.

What’s more, the internet that rural Americans can access is slower and more expensive than it is for their urban counterparts. To add insult to injury, rural residents generally earn less than those in urban areas.

So how are policy makers working to solve this problem? I [
Marguerite Reardon] traveled to Washington last month to talk about this topic with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the commission. Specifically, I wanted to know what they see as the cause of this divide and how they think it can be bridged.

Full Report HERE.

I am highlighting this insight, as it is vitally important and a real challenge which I will cover in more detail in a future post.

But before you can really get things going, you have to address one key issue, Rosenworcel said.

“Our broadband maps are terrible,” she said. “If we’re going to solve this nation’s broadband problems, then the first thing we have to do is fix those maps. We need to know where broadband is and is not in every corner of this country.

It is impossible to effectively allocate resources if policymakers cannot identify the real problem. The logic used to create the current broadband maps is seriously flawed in two aspects, it is based on self-reporting by ISPs of advertised speeds and a single user in a census block the mappers assumes that all in the census block has similar service. Both of these flaws seriously distort reality.

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C|NET: Why Rural Areas Can’t Catch A Break On Speedy Broadband

Everyone agrees on the mission to connect more people. But no one can agree on how to do it.

C|NET BB

 

 

This is part of CNET’s “Crossing the Broadband Divide” series exploring the challenges of getting internet access to everyone.

 

 

[…]

In previous generations, communities thrived based on their proximity to infrastructure like roads, railways, airports and rivers to distribute goods. Today, it’s about having access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet. Communities without access will simply wither and die, says Jonathan Chambers, a former FCC official and partner at the Washington-based consulting firm Conexon, which works with electric co-ops looking to deliver rural broadband service.

People will vote with their feet and move away from places that do not provide high-speed internet access,” he said. “They will leave, and that community will not survive.”

[…]

But the biggest barrier to getting broadband in certain areas of the country is low population density. Broadband providers simply won’t offer service if they can’t get enough customers to pay for it.

[…]

The advent of 5G wireless, which promises to bring increased speeds and network responsiveness, is also unlikely to reach rural communities.

[…]

Market forces are what will drive the deployment of 5G,” said Blair Levin, who oversaw the FCC’s National Broadband report in 2010 and who served as chief of staff to Clinton-era FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. “The 5G economics are very different than they are for 4G. And cities, because of their density, are in a much better position to drive 5G deployment than rural communities.”

[…]

“Even if you make it cheaper to deploy and invest in the network, if you can’t sustain a business because the population density is too low, it doesn’t really matter,” Brake said.

[…]

. . . 5G, which needs hundreds of radios to cover relatively short distances, is likely prohibitively expensive to make sense for rural areas.

There’s also the use of unlicensed TV broadcast spectrum called white spaces. Microsoft, which holds several royalty-free technology patents for using this spectrum, announced a program in July 2017 to connect 2 million people in rural America by 2022 through partnerships with telecom companies. The company promised to have 12 projects up and running in 12 states in the next 12 months.

The FCC has set rules for the use of white space spectrum and established an administrator of a national database to identify channels that can be used by devices accessing the shared spectrum. But there have been problems with the database’s accuracy, and there’s not yet an ecosystem of devices, which means it could be a while before the technology is widely used by consumers.

Full Article is HERE.  Color highlights added.

 

 

Techwire: Broadband Spread: First the Route

Then the Tech California’s Broadband Council held its first meeting aimed at allowing stakeholders to identify key communications corridors across the state. This will roll into the plan to develop the state’s broadband infrastructure, delivering services to 98 percent of households, which is one of the council’s legislative goals.

More details HERE.

Broadband Mapping Problems

A GOA Report addressing the lack of broadband on tribal lands outlines the mapping problem. The full tribal lands report is HERE: Tribal BB

In our September 2018 report on broadband access on tribal lands, we found that FCC collects broadband availability data from broadband providers, but its method for collecting the data does not accurately or completely capture broadband access—the ability to obtain service—on tribal lands.9 Specifically, FCC directs fixed broadband providers to submit a list of census blocks where service is available on their Form 477 filings. In the Form 477 instructions, FCC defines “available”10 as whether the provider does—or could, within a typical service interval or without an extraordinary commitment of resources—provide service to at least one end-user premises in a census block.11 Thus, in its annual reports and maps of fixed broadband service, FCC considers an entire block to be served if a provider reports that it does, or could offer, service to at least one household in the census block. As shown in figure 1, FCC’s definition of availability leads to overstatements of fixed broadband availability on tribal lands by: (1) counting an entire census block as served if only one location has broadband, and (2) allowing providers to report availability in blocks where they do not have any infrastructure connecting homes to their networks if the providers determine they could offer service to at least one household. FCC has noted that overstatements of availability can be particularly problematic in rural areas, where census blocks cover larger areas.

BB_Overstatment

According to FCC officials, FCC requires providers to report fixed broadband availability where they could provide service to: (1) ensure that it captures instances in which a provider has a network nearby but has not installed the last connection to the homes, and (2) identify where service is connected to homes, but homes have not subscribed. FCC officials also told us that FCC measures availability at the census block level because sub-census block data may be costly to collect. However, FCC acknowledged that by requiring a provider to report where it could provide service, it is not possible to tell whether the provider would be unable or unwilling to take on additional subscribers in a census block it lists as served.12 In addition, when reporting on broadband access in tribal lands,13 FCC uses the broadband availability data described above, and does not collect information on factors that FCC and tribal stakeholders have stated can affect broadband access.14 These factors include affordability, service quality, and service denials.

By developing and implementing methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands, FCC would be better able to target federal broadband funding to tribal areas that need it the most. We recommended FCC develop and implement methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands. FCC agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is exploring methods to collect more granular broadband deployment data.

Broadband Mapping Anger Boils Over

— Senate Commerce lawmakers and telecom industry witnesses were unified during a Thursday hearing in slamming the accuracy of the FCC broadband mapping that will dictate eligibility for billions of dollars of Mobility Fund subsidies intended to help companies build out wireless service. The FCC had extended the time period for challenging the map accuracy, but critics are still unhappy. U.S. Cellular Vice President Grant Spellmeyer called the maps “nowhere near accurate” and said his company will run out of time before challenging as much as it would like. “It’s going to crack open a digital divide that’s far worse than what we’ve seen previously,” he warned, suggesting the FCC be “directed to stand down” and potentially hand over the responsibility to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

— Lawmakers echoed the telecom industry anger. “Clearly the amount of resources that’s expended trying to get information that isn’t very accurate, is not going to help anybody in the long run,” Thune told John after the hearing. “They certainly make a very compelling argument that there’s a better way to do this.” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said many lawmakers still “don’t have the comfort level” in the accuracy of the maps determining subsidies. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) complained that the current set-up lets the government shift the burden to others to fact-check the maps’ accuracy.

— The FCC wasn’t on deck to testify, but an agency spokesperson defended its efforts, saying the commission is “working with a number of members of Congress to ensure that we get as much input into the map as possible and move forward” with the Mobility Fund subsidy auction. The current system “doesn’t make sense” and is “often providing duplicative subsidies to more than one carrier to serve the same area while many areas without service don’t receive any money,” the spokesperson added.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

These folks have yet to experience the real anger.  The Gold Country Broadband Consortia held a series of public meeting and those citizens who requested service based on the broadband maps and were turned down by the telcos were very angry, livid would be a more accurate description. Their expectations were raised by the government maps, based on data provided by the telcos, only to have their desire for broadband to be dashed by the very telcos that provide the erroneous information in the first place.  For these citizens, the government was not doing their job, and it appears there is still a problem.

I like the irony of this mapping problem. The telecom industry is angry about the accuracy of the government maps, when the maps were based on the information they provided.

NTIA: We’re Working To Fix The Broadband Mapping Problem

The article is at Fierce Wireless

There’s a lot going on out there that these [current] maps don’t cover,” David Redl, the NTIA’s administrator, said here during keynote remarks at the annual Competitive Carriers Association trade show. He noted that the regional and rural wireless network operators that make up the bulk of the CCA’s membership continue to upgrade their networks across the country, and that NTIA’s broadband map should reflect that work.

Indeed, Redl said the NTIA has been reaching out to smaller wireless network operators and others in order to collect data that it will eventually use to update the agency’s broadband map.

He added that the agency is looking to work with an unnamed state to pilot new broadband mapping technologies in the coming months.

Rest of the Article is HERE.

Redl said the agency received 53 sets of comments “indicating a variety of data sources and approaches that we can use to support these efforts.”

The Insightworks submitted comments on Broadband Mapping and participated in the beta testing of a highspeed internet recording device which can be used to validate speeds reported by the ISPs.

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.