NTIA Partners with 8 States on Improvements to Broadband Availability Map

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

February 12, 2019
News Media Contact:
NTIA, Office of Public Affairs, (202) 482-7002, press@ntia.doc.gov
Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that it is collaborating with eight states to broaden and update the national broadband availability map. The eight states – California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia – will contribute data and other inputs to the map.

“In order to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband, we need a more precise picture of the current services and infrastructure that are available,” said David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. “NTIA’s work on an updated map, in partnership with these initial states, will help policymakers around the country make better decisions as they devise broadband expansion plans.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 directed NTIA to update the national broadband availability map using its previously developed state partnerships. The initial eight state partners were chosen because they reflect geographic diversity, participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network, have active state broadband plans or programs, and were willing to contribute data that can be combined with nationwide data sources to give policymakers a deeper understanding of broadband availability.

NTIA expects to seek participation from additional states, territories and federally recognized tribes that have broadband programs or related data-collection efforts. The initial map will include available nationwide data for every state combined with state-level data from the eight states.



California Public Utilities Commission has an active program to collect data from the field with the CalSpeed Program. They are looking for 500 volunteers to collect this vital data for improving the accuracy of the broadband maps. More details HERE and HERE.

Properly collected data at the user level is the gold standard for accurate broadband maps.

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FCC Quibbles At Senate 5G Hearing

— Amid broader national security fears surrounding Chinese telecom giants, various senators also singled out the FCC with gripes during Senate Commerce’s hearing on 5G wireless on Wednesday. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called the agency too “chicken to do contribution reform” and force more people to pay into its telecom subsidy fund — currently only supported by landline customers. “It’s a shrinking pie,” Schatz said. “We want to win every race but don’t admit that this takes resources.”

— And Democrats weren’t the only ones with gripes with the agency. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) both raised concerns about the FCC’s maps of nationwide broadband availability, widely derided as inaccurate. “NTIA needs to take over this mapping responsibility and clean it up,” Blackburn said.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Can You Hear Me Now? In Quest for Federal Money, States Debunk Providers’ Coverage Claims

Cellphone companies often boast about how much of the country they cover. But with billions of federal dollars at stake to expand mobile broadband in rural America, state officials and other groups across 37 states say those claims aren’t always true.

The challenge is proving the carriers wrong.

In Vermont, that meant sending out a guy in a gray Toyota Prius to imitate the ubiquitous “can you hear me now?” question as he motored among small towns and dairy farms in search of a signal. Other states took similar steps, and their concerns have caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which has begun investigating the accuracy of the carriers’ claims.

The FCC got on to the question last year after it offered $4.5 billion through its Mobility Fund II reverse auction, meant to advance high-speed mobile broadband service in needy rural areas over the next decade. To determine which areas would be eligible for funding, the FCC required mobile providers to submit data showing where they provide 4G LTE coverage with download speeds of 5 megabits per second.

According to the carriers, several rural states, including Kansas and most of Vermont, New Hampshire and Mississippi, already had high-speed mobile broadband and didn’t need the FCC’s money.

Vermont begged to differ.

“When we first looked at the confidential coverage maps we called the FCC staff and said, ‘These maps are wrong,’” recalled Corey Chase, telecommunications infrastructure specialist with the Vermont Department of Public Service.

“The FCC said, ‘Well, if you don’t think they’re accurate, it would behoove you to do a challenge,’” he recalled. “It puts the onus on us.”

So, the department sent Chase on the road to challenge the carriers’ maps. With six phones in his passenger side seat running tests, and a seventh used as a map, Chase covered the Green Mountain State’s forested and at times rocky terrain to gather the data that would provide a foundation for an accurate statewide mobile broadband map.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

The CPUC has a mobile coverage data collection plan call CalSPEED. More Details HERE.

 

If Broadband is Essential Infrastructure it Should be in the General Plan

In California, the General Plan is a document providing a long-range plan for a city’s and county’s physical development. Local jurisdictions have freedom as to what their general plans include, however, there are specific requirements under California state law that each general plan must meet; failure to do so could result in suspension of future development.

Each general plan must include the vision, goals, and objectives of the city or county in terms of planning and development within eight different “elements” defined by the state as: land use, housing, circulation, conservation, noise, safety, open space, and environmental justice which was added as an official element in 2016.

To assist cities and counties to develop and refine their planning document the Governor’s Office and Planning Research published some guidelines in August of 2017.  These charts capture the essence of that guidance.

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.09.54

Screenshot 2019-01-31 21.10

Please note that broadband is not mentioned in either graphic, yet broadband has a significant relationship to land use, circulation, housing, conservation, and social justice.

Broadband is mention in the General Planning Guidelines three places:

Chapter 4, Required Elements, Page 81, broadband as a “relevant utility.”

Chapter 4, Page 82 Broadband:

“Both state and federal governments are implementing various funding programs that serve the goal of expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved areas. Within California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) manages the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which invests hundreds of millions of dollars annually in broadband deployment. The state also created the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF), which was designed to be a public-purpose venture capital fund.”

Dig once policies can substantially reduce costs for providing broadband service to communities. A new provider can run ber through leased conduit space at a fraction of the costs, incentivizing more private actors to deploy or reducing costs to the city if self-provisioning broadband services. For example, if conduit construction was promoted along ongoing civil work projects, fiber deployment costs drop by $30,000- $100,000 per mile. On average, 60 to 90 percent of network deployment costs come from civil works as opposed to equipment and maintenance.

Chapter 6, page 211:

In addition, general plan policies may improve access to health services through integrated public transportation and provisions for access to broadband, allowing for telemedicine capacity. 

If California planners were serious about the benefits of every home and businesses having broadband access, they would provide General Planning Guidance beyond dig once.

According to a recent Brookings Metro Policy Paper in less than two decades broadband access has become one of the foundations of the American Economy, joining water, sewer, power, transportation, and energy as essential infrastructure.

If broadband is essential infrastructure, and a “relevant utility”, it should be included in the general planning requirements:

Land Use:  Reduce the cost of installing fixed and mobile wireless antennas, including G5 mini towers.  See Nevada County Land Use, Communications for WiFi example.

Circulation: Use of broadband reduces the need to travel, enables work from home, promoter online shopping all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to a California, Emerging Technology Funds report Broadband as Green Strategy, access to broadband reduces vehicle miles traveled, office-space construction, energy use, while increasing online shopping, all which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.1 billion tons over ten years,

Housing:  All new development should include broadband networks, especially in multi-family housing in low-income neighborhoods, where adoption is hindered by high-cost access.

Conservation:  Broadband reduces the consumption of natural resources. See Circulation.

Environmental Justice: Broadband internet improves access to health care, education, and employment. Broadband opens the doors to entrepreneurship by individual and small groups, especially in rural communities creating community wealth.

Also missing from the Governor’s Office and Planning Research planning guidelines issued in August 2017 are topics and elements related to economic development. An issue worthy of a future post. 

Your thoughts? Should Broadband be given more attention in General Planning?

FCC: Pai’s Future

— FCC Chairman Ajit Pai didn’t quite rule out an eventual run for office and said he hopes to find common ground with lawmakers in the new Congress in an interview with Margaret for C-SPAN’S The Communicators. He said his 2019 agenda will focus on rural broadband, telemedicine, 5G, public safety communications and robocalls.

— On Mobility Fund : Pai wouldn’t say the consequences carriers could face as a result of the investigation into whether one or more carriers overstated their wireless coverage for maps that will determine eligibility for subsidies under the $4.5 billion Mobility Fund program. He said the agency is committed to getting accurate data first. “Our goal is to make sure that we get the data right that will allow us to make an informed decision about where that funding should go.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech [Emphasis Added]

FCC Map Probe Draws Hill Praise

— Lawmakers are voicing support for the FCC’s decision to investigate whether major carriers overstated their wireless coverage. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, said Monday she is “pleased” the agency is taking “additional steps necessary to address their flawed maps.” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), another Commerce member, said it’s “absolutely critical that the Commission remains focused on ensuring that our limited universal service funds are effectively and accurately targeted to areas that lack unsubsidized 4G LTE service.”

— The background: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Friday that a preliminary review “suggested significant violations” of the agency’s rules regarding the maps, as Margaret reported for Pro . “We must ensure that the data is accurate before we can proceed,” Pai said. Mobility Fund Phase II will provide up to $4.53 billion in support for rural wireless broadband expansion across the country over the next 10 years.

Actions speak louder than words, to repeat an often used phrase.  Fixing the mapping problem is not going to be easy. The biggest gaps in the maps are in rural areas, outside the urban that now have broadband.  How to survey these gaps is a real challenge.

Broadband Mapping: Lawmakers Weigh Wicker’s Funding Gambit

— Lawmakers are broadly receptive to concerns Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is raising about the accuracy of FCC broadband maps. But most are not ready to commit to supporting Wicker’s attempt to hitch language to the year-end government funding bill to force the FCC to revisit the mapping. Congress is looking to wrap up its final fiscal 2019 funding measure by Dec. 21, and John had reported last week that Wicker is pursuing the broadband amendment.

— Although Senate appropriator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) quickly endorsed the idea, others say they are still assessing. “Senator Wicker’s going to be the chairman of the Commerce Committee next year, and if I was the FCC, I’d be listening closely, and I would hope we could send a strong message and some ability to get the mapping to where it’s reliable,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a senior appropriator and member of GOP leadership, told John on Tuesday. “It’s just so unbelievably unreliable.” Blunt said he would want to talk to Wicker about specifics but seemed potentially open to the right measure.

— Sen.Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), another appropriator, “still has concerns” about the FCC’s initial mapping aimed at determining eligibility for Mobility Fund subsidies, “but he looks forward to seeing how the challenge process may have improved the map,” a spokesman said when asked about a funding rider. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) will “certainly be reviewing the challenge process with my colleagues,” he told POLITICO in a statement. “The fact of the matter is we can’t just rely on carrier submitted data, which is why I supported mapping funds for NTIA in the appropriations package last spring.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech