RCRC Rural Broadband and 5G Update

Rural Broadband Update

This week, Representative Antonio Delgado (D-New York) announced a package of two bills aimed at addressing flawed broadband mapping practices and increasing broadband speeds for rural communities.

The first bill, the Broadband Speed Act (HR 4641), would require internet service providers to annually report data to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that shows the actual speeds they are capable of providing, as opposed to what they can potentially provide. This will help the FCC determine where advertised speeds match actual speeds. The second bill, the Community Broadband Mapping Act, would allow local governments, electric/telephone cooperatives, economic development/community groups and small internet providers to collect information on local broadband service. This will enable communities who are currently incorrectly designated by the FCC as having service to take action to have the information necessary to dispute that status with the FCC.

5G Update

AT&T is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to exclude 5G from its required upgraded data mapping collection. “There is broad agreement that it is not yet time to require reporting on 5G coverage” AT&T said in a statement to the FCC.

AT&T and other mobile carriers want to hide 5G coverage maps from the public while subsequently marketing the pace and breadth of their 5G rollouts. “Service standards for 5G are still emerging, precluding reporting of service-level coverage for 5G networks (other than the 5G-NR submissions already required),” AT&T wrote.

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RCRC: Barbed Wire Broadband Update

FCC Proposes “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” Program

On August 1, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held an Open Commission Meeting where commissioners considered multiple issues that could impact the deployment of broadband internet in rural California. During the meeting, Commissioners proposed a new program to invest in rural broadband projects entitled the “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.”

The Rural Digital Fund (the Fund) would invest $20.4 billion to expand broadband in rural areas without adequate internet access. The proposal would raise the bar for rural broadband deployment by making more areas eligible for support and requiring faster service than the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II reverse auction. In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC seeks comment on continuing the expansion of broadband where it’s lacking by using an efficient reverse auction that builds on the success of the CAF Phase II auction. The Fund would focus on areas currently served by “price cap” carriers, along with areas that were not won in the CAF Phase II auction and other areas that do not currently receive any high-cost universal service support. The official Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requests comment on the following policy proposals for the new fund:

• Make eligible for support any price cap area currently receiving CAF Phase II model-based support but lacking broadband at speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream, as well as the areas un-awarded in the CAF Phase II auction.

• Make additional homes and businesses eligible for support by including areas that remain unserved, despite previous expectations that they would be served without subsidies due to estimated lower costs.

• Raise the standard for broadband deployment from the CAF’s 10 Mbps/1 Mbps minimum to at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, with incentives for faster speeds.
• Allocate support through a multi-round reverse auction like that used in last year’s CAF Phase II auction. In that auction, competition reduced the cost of reaching over 700,000 unserved homes and businesses from the $5 billion auction reserve price to $1.488 billion.

• Implement a two-phase approach: 1) In Phase I, target wholly unserved census blocks, using an existing FCC data collection 2) In Phase II, target unserved locations in partially unserved census blocks, using new, more granular data being developed through the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, along with areas not won in Phase I.
• Set a budget of $20.4 billion in high-cost universal service support, making available at least $16 billion for Phase I and the remainder available for Phase II. Both phases would have 10-year support terms.
• Adopt technology-neutral standards, opening the auction to all types of providers that can meet program standards.
• Ensure a smooth transition of support from existing providers to auction winners.
• Include measures to require accountability to ensure that funding is used wisely to expand broadband deployment.

Broadband Mapping Update

In order to identify geographic areas that lack adequate broadband access, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is instituting a new process for collecting fixed broadband data. This proposal would reform the FCC’s broadband deployment data collection rules, and improve the accuracy of the National Broadband Map overseen by the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA).

The order established a new collection process known as the Digital Opportunity Data Collection which require mobile and landline service providers to submit detailed coverage maps to show specific areas they serve at the census block level. The order was praised by third parties such as Microsoft, a leading voice from the private sector to improve broadband coverage data, while acknowledging the order is only a step in the right direction. In general, the order is expected to increase the granularity of the data shared by service providers which should lead to more accurate coverage information.

Presidential Candidates Release Broadband Plans

Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential elections are pitching themselves to rural America this week during their campaign tours across the State of Iowa. Some candidates are seizing this opportunity to launch their rural policy platforms and appeal to rural voters.

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) announced her plan to deliver high speed broadband coverage to rural areas. As part of her policy platform for rural America, Senator Warren proposed the creation of a new Department of Economic Development which would oversee an $85 billion federal broadband grant program that would provide funding to electricity and telecommunications co-ops, nonprofits, tribes, and local governments. Nationwide carriers would not be eligible for funding.

In her rural platform launch, Senator Warren also said she would back federal legislation that would authorize local governments to construct their own broadband networks. Municipal-owned networks are outlawed in 26 states, including California, but Senator Warren suggested as president she would support federal legislation to lift these bands and authorize municipal broadband networks nationwide.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) published her plan for rural America called “Rebuilding Rural America to Build Our Future,” which would create a $50 billion fund within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute block grants to rural communities for infrastructure, public assistance, and economic development programs. In addition, Senator Gillibrand promised her administration would spend $60 billion to deliver high-speed internet access in rural areas.

Microsoft Disputes FCC’s Broadband Availability Data

Microsoft is challenging the Federal Communications Committee’s (FCC) recent broadband-availability reports. According to Microsoft, the FCC’s data overstates the extent to which broadband is actually available throughout the nation. The FCC currently defines broadband as 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. In some areas, however, Microsoft asserts that not all households have access to this standard.

Microsoft has build an interactive tools to demonstrate their findings. Here is one example:

Screen Shot 2019-08-06 at 10.34.14 AM

Select your county at the link and see the results HERE. Scroll down the page to the interactive map.  The FCC disputes these findings in their Order to validate the Nations broadband maps.  More details in FCC Order FCCCIRC 1908-02 which Establishes the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system at this LINK.

 

 

FCC Seeks Crowdsourcing Validation of Broadband Maps

FCC Order FCCCIRC 1908-02 Establishes the Digital Opportunity Data Collection system

From the Fact Sheet:

What the Report and Order Would Do:

• Establish the Digital Opportunity Data Collection—a new data collection that will collect geospatial broadband coverage maps from Internet service providers, specifically aimed at advancing the Commission’s universal service goals;

• Adopt a process to collect public input, commonly known as “crowdsourcing,” on the accuracy of service providers’ broadband maps; and

• Make targeted changes to the existing Form 477 data collection to reduce reporting burdens for all filers and modify the collection to incorporate new technologies.

In 2012 the Gold County Broadband Consortia (GCBC) established a crowdsourcing method for validating the California Broadband Maps. The CA maps used the same census block techniques as the FCC Broadband maps which left significant gaps in the real-world coverage.

The Gold County Broadband Consortia collected broadband survey forms at the Nevada County Fair. Plotting the information gathered at the Fair using Arc/GIS online revealed some significant gaps in the California Broadband Maps.

nevada-county-fair-sample
Filled circles =>6MHz down, red circles <6MHz down, light blue circles unserved.

The GCBC worked with the California Public Utilities Commission staff to come up with a standard form which could be handed out at community meetings. The purpose of collecting more 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 the CA broadband maps. Sample online form is HERE, reproduced from the original on an earlier GCBC website.

The full FCC Order and Report can be downloaded HERE.

 

 

FCC fInally Orders ISPs to Say Exactly Where They Offer Broadband

ISPs will have to submit geospatial maps of broadband service areas.

Details at ArsTechnica:

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to collect more accurate data about which parts of the US have broadband and which parts lack high-speed connectivity. From now on, home Internet providers will have to give the FCC geospatial maps of where they provide service instead of merely reporting which census blocks they offer service in.

Continue reading HERE

When I was doing broadband mapping for SEDCorp/Gold County Broadband Consortia, I helped several small ISPs with mapping problems. Many ISPs only had Excel files of user addresses to produces geospatial maps of there coverage area. I used Arc/GIS Online to plot the coverage. This information was considered sensitive information and held very close, should competitors gain access. For small ISP a $2500 fee for Arc/GIS license can be a challenge unless other uses can are found for this geoprocessing software. However, a 21-day free trial is available. (Problem is a steep learning curve)

An alternative is QGIS. QGIS, also known as Quantum GIS, is a free and open-source cross-platform desktop geographic information system. QGIS supports viewing, editing, and analysis of geospatial data. I produced the 5G cell phone coverage plots (here) in QGIS. The problem for small ISPs is QGIS, and Arc/GIS have relatively long learning curves.

Consultants like Steve Blum (link in right column) and companies specializing in GIS systems could also be helpful. In my opinion, all the CPUC Broadband Consortia should have an Arc/GIS or QGIS package and be prepared to help their small ISPs map their coverage areas.

The Pew Charitable Trust Broadband Policy Explorer

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ state broadband policy explorer lets you learn how states are expanding access to broadband through laws. Categories in the tool include: broadband programs, competition and regulation, definitions, funding and financing, and infrastructure access.

As you choose categories, a 50-state map illustrates which states have adopted such laws. The state broadband policy explorer includes state statutes related to broadband as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Download the Explorer HERE.

PEW also published:  No One Approach Fits All States in Efforts to Expand Broadband Access Activities, regulatory authority, funding vary by jurisdiction

Here is a screenshot of the California listing with some useful URLs:

Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 1.16.49 PM

Federal Reserve Bank Report on Broadband Digital Divide

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released its report Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide on July 31st at a State Broadband Leaders Network Meeting.

CONCLUSION: THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION

The digital divide is wide and complex. No one group can bridge the divide alone—not government, banks, businesses or community organizations. Each of these groups, however, must play a role if the divide is to be narrowed.

This report identified three specific opportunities for action, which align with the three legs of the digital 1inclusion stool:

1. Research and evaluate the impact of policy on broadband expansion.

Good policy requires good data. Throughout this project, we found research related to the economic affect broadband has on communities. The studies documented the correlation between broadband and economic opportunity, but questions remain as to what policies best encourage broadband expansion. Policies vary greatly from one state to the next, especially as it relates to which types of entities—large carriers, small independent for-profit providers, municipalities and cooperatives—are allowed to build and operate networks. Elected officials would find it easier to make informed decisions if they had access to research on the effectiveness of these policies on boosting broadband deployment and improving affordability. Broader research on improving affordability and adoption would also help inform the field.

2. Support and expand workforce development programs focused on digital skills training.

Digital skills are a must for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. Innovative approaches to preparing workers can provide a pathway to living-wage jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, or, in many cases, even a two-year degree. Simply training workers on basic office-related programs like email and word processing can boost their employability. Registered apprenticeship programs can further expedite the process of developing and onboarding qualified workers. Workforce development programs targeting LMI individuals may also attract interest from banks seeking CRA-related activities, as outlined in Engaging Workforce Development: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations by the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Kansas City.

3. Support computer donation programs targeting those in need.

Businesses, government agencies, universities and other anchor institutions frequently replace computers in two-year to four-year cycles. Surplus computers have little monetary value, typically just pennies on the dollar. When donated, though, they can make a significant difference—whether the computer goes to a low-income mom pursuing her education, or a student learning to code. A donated computer can be a low-cost, high-impact way to change one’s economic trajectory. Such initiatives, particularly when targeting LMI populations and combined with workforce training programs, could also attract interest from banks seeking CRA-related activities.

The full report, with a long section on rural broadband, including a sidebar on mapping issues, can be downloaded HERE.

Visualizing 5G Antenna Sighting

In his Brooking paper 5G in five (not so) easy pieces, Tom Wheeler former FCC Chairman identified several hidden issues. One of those issues was antenna siting.

There is an inherent tension between the right of localities to make zoning decisions and the impact of those rights on a national infrastructure like 5G. There has always been a stress between wireless network infrastructure and not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) concerns.
[ . . .]
The issue of antenna siting has been further complicated as some states have sued to overturn the FCC’s order. While states like Texas and Florida have passed legislation embracing the concepts, 25 others, including California and New York, have rejected the idea. The impasse has prompted two U.S. senators, John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to introduce federal legislation establishing standards for public review of antenna siting. It is an issue that must be resolved, but in order to be resolved must rise above winner-take-all outcomes.

The number of antenna or small cells will be determined by the frequency spectrum used. Where mmWave (24 GHz to 38 GHz) will require a small cell on every city block or at 24 GHz about ever 224 meters.

5G small cell

Mid-band, often referred to as Sub 6GHz spectrum is typical 3.1GHz to 4.2 GHz, needs to have a small cell about every 1000 meters.

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 4.47.57 PM
To help visualize what that means geographically, I developed a grid map with a radius of about 224 meters and about 1000 meters and overlaid them on the Grass Valley and Nevada City Spheres of Influence.

image002
An antenna every 448 meters.

 

image005
An antenna every 2000 meters.

Low-band (600-700 MHz) can use existing towers with coverage measured in miles. Sprint is using portions of its assigned 4G spectrum 2.5-2.7 GHz for 5G service using existing large towers.

Which would you refer in your neighborhood, high-band mmWave at awesome speeds [20-30 Gbps] or mid-band at reasonable speeds [100 Mbps]?

RCRC: Rural Broadband Update

Last week, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure held a hearing on broadband mapping data in rural areas. The subcommittee listened to testimony from a panel of rural broadband carriers on how broadband mapping data can be improved. As RCRC has reported in the past, accurate broadband mapping data is essential to closing the digital divide between urban and rural America. While the federal government continues to increase public investment in rural broadband deployment, accurate data is required to determine where funding should be prioritized.

In addition, rural carriers attempting to provide coverage for underserved areas are receiving misinformation on which areas are truly underserved. “As long as broadband maps remain unreliable and riddled with erroneous, overly broad coverage claims, we will not be able to maximize our efforts to reach all unserved areas or to sustain services in areas where funding is needed to do so,” said Beth Osler, Director of Customer and Industry Relations at UniTel, a local carrier from rural Maine. Dan Stelpflug, Director of Operation at the Engineering and Technology at Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative in Potsville Iowa, identified a separate issue with rural carriers. Stelpflug pointed out rural carriers are not adequately staffed to identify and apply for federal grants administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Rural carriers also lack the staff to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) reporting requirements for projects funded by federal dollars.

Local and rural carriers are critical in closing the digital divide because they often served areas that are most underserved and most undesirable to nationwide carriers. In recent years, the federal government has committed more assistance to deliver high-speed broadband coverage to rural areas but the FCC needs to improve its broadband mapping data and engage further with rural carriers.

The FCC Needs AI Data Analysis Tools

Geoffrey Starks, FCC Commissioner at NextGov.com
With an estimated 2.5 billion plus gigabytes of data created every day, people, businesses, governments and organizations of every kind are generating and accessing more information than ever before. This information avalanche creates challenges and opportunities. For example, good data put to good use is revolutionizing healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, and retail. But bad data poorly analyzed can be catastrophic for policymaking. It’s time for the FCC to step into the future by using artificial intelligence tools to address the continuing lack of affordable broadband to many communities—an increasingly entrenched problem of “internet inequality,” which impacts our economy and democracy and threatens the future global competitiveness of our country.

Congress has charged the Federal Communications Commission with ensuring that every American has access to affordable high-speed internet service. To do so, we must review massive amounts of internet service provider data so we know where broadband is and is not deployed. This allows us to target federal dollars and drive further deployment as efficiently as possible. There is a lot of money at stake. The FCC’s broadband support programs distribute over $9 billion dollars annually. Achieving an accurate understanding of broadband deployment has proven to be challenging for the Commission, which utilizes a process that overstates broadband availability and has failed to catch egregiously flawed data submissions. The FCC’s data is currently not granular or accurate enough to capture the actual number of homes or businesses that truly have connectivity.

Keep reading HERE. [Emphasis added]