A few weeks ago, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to members of the House and Senate who raised concerns about the accuracy of the broadband mapping used by the FCC to measure households with access to broadband internet. Chairman Pai wrote to inform the members that the FCC would implement a new order that would “result in more granular and more accurate broadband maps” through the creation of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection (DODC).
The DODC will require broadband providers to report areas they offer service below the census block level. This reported data will then be independently verified by the Universal Service Administrative Company. The DODC approach will be used by the FCC to administer $20 billion over the next ten years to rural broadband deployment through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
FCC Chairman Pai addressed his letter to members from rural states and districts who will be scrutinizing the FCC’s new method for broadband mapping closely. While the DODC is a much needed step in the right direction for broadband mapping, the data collection process remains overly reliant on data from nationwide carriers. It will be critical for the future of rural broadband deployment to measure the success of the DODC program and hold the FCC accountable.
The best of good intentions often go arie, and this is just another opportunity for the government to screw up. Yes, hold the FCC accountable, do your own speed testing and report the results. If you do not have a broadband connection report the failure of the local providers to support your needs for 21st Century Communications directly to the DODC.
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.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to introduce a regulatory order in August that would require more reporting data from broadband carriers to increase the accuracy of the national broadband coverage map. Over the last several months, the FCC has faced scrutiny over the accuracy of the national broadband map, which is used by federal agencies to determine areas that lack reliable broadband coverage.
Democrats and Republicans have criticized the FCC for relying on data reported by nationwide carriers that appears to overstate the availability of internet access in some areas.
The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit held a hearing this week on “Building Opportunity in Rural America through Affordable, Reliable and High-Speed Broadband.” During his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia) urged FCC Chairman Pai to allow stakeholders from rural America to play a role in the rulemaking process. The FCC is scheduled to invest billions of dollars in rural broadband over the next several years and Chairman Scott suggested rural areas should be involved in the process.
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.
CA Economic Summit: Digital Inclusion Event Sparks Commitments Around Expansion Of Broadband In California
In a day marked by creativity, candor and collaboration, broadband stakeholders came together during a “Digital Inclusion Roundtable” on last week in Sacramento to develop a set of action steps to expand high-speed broadband deployment throughout California.
The Roundtable was convened through a partnership between the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) and California Forward. Its purpose was to promote policies and practices in state agencies to advance “Digital Inclusion” for all Californians. The event drew more than 40 representatives from state and local governments, League of California Cities, Rural County Representatives of California, Broadband Regional Consortia, internet service providers, tribal interests, the California Council of Governments, and other local and regional stakeholders.
In opening remarks, Amy Tong, director and state chief information officer for the California Department of Technology, noted that statewide broadband initiatives are a priority under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, with much energy focused on the digital divide still facing the state.
“The broadband initiative is taking on a whole new life,” Tong said. “We have done everything we can under the circumstances, but there is a lot more we can do.”
Lenny Mendonca, the Governor’s chief economic and business advisor and director of the Office of Business and Economic Development, echoed those thoughts during a noontime address. He emphasized that broadband access is critical for public safety, education, economic development and a host of other state priorities.
“We really need to have a digitally inclusive economy,” Mendonca said. “It is a priority for the governor.”
The Roundtable discussion featured lively discussion around both opportunities and barriers for expanding broadband access to underserved and unserved areas of the state. It was designed to build upon the work of CETF to integrate Digital Inclusion into all state policies and programs.
CETF is a nonprofit corporation with a goal of broadband deployment and availability to at least 98 percent of California households by 2023 and overall statewide adoption of broadband service by 90 percent of households in that same time frame. The state has made progress, with 84 percent of California households in 2016 able to access high-speed Internet at home, according to a CETF analysis of progress between 2007-2017.
But as that analysis explains, “sobering challenges” remain with a digital divide in California that includes more than 5 million residents offline at home, and 14 percent connected at home by only a smartphone. CETF’s efforts to close the divide have included, among other initiatives, a focus on incorporating broadband deployment into state transportation corridor planning guidelines and recognizing broadband as a “green strategy” for reducing impacts on the environment and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.
The event was designed to assess progress following a September 2018 stakeholder meeting by the California Broadband Council and the California Department of Technology, where participants explored the concept of “strategic corridors” to support broadband deployment. The concept, which arises under the state’s statutory “Dig Once” responsibilities, seeks to establish conduit installation specifications in strategic corridors where transportation projects are being constructed but no internet service provider or public agency is prepared at the time to install conduit.
CETF President and CEO Sunne Wright McPeak noted that the September 2018 forum “was a tremendous conversation,” and that the Roundtable in Sacramento was designed to “hear from state agencies – what you have done and what you intend to do.”
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More broadband blather! Where is the action? CA blathers about broadband while the states global competitors take action. Even poorer states are taking action when CA the fifth largest economy continues to talk about the problem. Elon Musk’s Starlink will available before we see any concrete action by the state of Calfornia to serve its rural citizens.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is under mounting pressure to re-evaluate the accuracy of the broadband mapping data used in the commission’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report. On June 2, 2019, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) became one of the loudest critics yet when he pointed to the disparities between the FCC’s report and a 3rd party study conducted by Microsoft.
In addition, Congressman Doug Collins (R-Georgia), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai requesting the commission consider a more accurate and reliable approach to mapping broadband coverage. Unreliable broadband coverage data from the FCC paints an overly optimistic picture of broadband coverage in rural areas and undermines the ability of policymakers to prioritize funding for areas that are truly underserved. More members are calling for improvements to broadband mapping data to better address the digital divide and improve broadband coverage in rural areas.
Source: RCRC Barbed Wire Newsletter