Criticisms of the new FCC Broadband maps and challenge process

GNC reports on public reaction to the new FCC broadband maps…

Just days after the Federal Communications Commission released an initial draft of a national map showing the availability of broadband internet, some groups are criticizing what they see as the map’s shortcomings.

A letter from open internet nonprofit Public Knowledge dated Nov. 22 called for various improvements to the FCC’s mapping process, which it said had some “inaccuracies.”

Public Knowledge said the procedures for states, local communities and even individuals to challenge the broadband availability map needs to be clarified, as many stakeholders expressed “confusion” over the challenge process. The group also said that the FCC should better explain how it would use local challenges against speeds, if the reported speed on the map is not actually offered by internet service providers.

The organization questioned the satellite broadband availability data, which it said “misleadingly indicates that the vast majority of the country is served.” Instead, Public Knowledge said the FCC should update its maps to provide a “more realistic picture of broadband availability.” While satellite internet has shown promise, the nonprofit said, in practice satellite providers cannot serve most locations in the country with broadband.

Additionally, community institutions like schools and libraries were left off the FCC’s maps of residential service, Public Knowledge said. The FCC apparently assumed that those buildings receive commercial broadband service, when, in fact, many anchor institutions use residential service and should be included in the map.

These criticisms align with what I’m hearing from folks on the frontlines in Minnesota.

Senator Klobuchar talks about importance of precision agriculture

KRWC AM 1360 reports

The 2023 Farm Bill will likely include programs to expand broadband access to more homes, farms and businesses in rural America.

During a recent Senate Ag Committee hearing, Senator Amy Klobuchar talked about the importance of high-speed internet for “precision” agriculture.

Precision agriculture management uses things like drones, GPS, and irrigation technologies. The USDA’s Rural Development program has been awarding loans and grants to expand high-speed internet infrastructure.

Barbara Dröher Kline is newest addition to MN Governor’s Task Force On Broadband

Big news for broadband advocates, there’s a new member of the MN Broadband Task Force…

Barbara Dröher Kline – New Prague, MN

Governor’s Task Force On Broadband

Member

Effective: November 28, 2022

Term Expires: April 2, 2023

Replacing: Bernadine Joselyn

Barbara is an excellent addition to the Task Force. She has lived on the wrong end of the digital divide quite recently and still has the fire to want to make it better for everyone in her community. She has the drive, the experience and the expertise to make a difference.

Senator Putnam chosen for MN Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband

Senator Aric Putnam was chosen for the MN Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband. The Duluth New Tribune reports

State Sen. Aric Putnam admits he doesn’t know a lot about farming, but as a scholar, he’s ready to take a crash course to prepare to lead the Minnesota Senate Agriculture Committee.

Putnam, a Democrat from St. Cloud, was named to his leadership post just before the Minnesota Farmers Union state convention and went to the event Nov. 19 to be introduced.

“The first thing I said was, ‘I don’t seem like a clear fit for this,’” Putnam said. “I still think that the committee is a space to do great things for the whole state. So the full title is Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband, so there’s a lot of stuff in that jurisdiction that I think I can help with.”

Putnam was elected to his second term in the Minnesota Senate in the November general election, which saw the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party flip enough Senate seats from red to blue that the party now controls both houses of the Legislature and saw Gov. Tim Walz win a second term.

Broadband is a priority for Minnesota Farm Bureau

Brownfield Ag News reports…

Minnesota Farm Bureau has set legislative priorities for 2023.

Vice president Carolyn Olson, who farms near Cottonwood, tells Brownfield rural broadband connectivity, supporting research and development at land grant universities, and funding the veterinary diagnostic lab emerged during grassroots discussion.

“To continue research for prevention of animal diseases. As a pig farmer, that is something that is pretty important to me and our neighbors that also raise livestock.”

On broadband, she says Farm Bureau can encourage lawmakers to speed up implementation by sharing their stories.

“It’s important to share how much our tractors rely on cell signal, for example. And if they don’t know, they don’t know how to fight for us either.”

Will BEAD fund unlicensed spectrum? Good question and it will matter in Minnesota!

So many posts about the FCC maps and funding and details because the details will impact how much money communities will receive for broadband in the next few years. The issue this post – unlicensed spectrum versus licensed spectrum. Telecompetitor reports

The BEAD program is designed to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved rural areas. In establishing rules for the program, NTIA omitted fixed wireless service that relies totally on unlicensed spectrum for last mile connectivity from its definition of reliable service – a decision that impacts the BEAD program in two ways.

It makes FWA deployments using unlicensed spectrum ineligible for funding. And it makes areas that have high-speed broadband eligible for overbuilds if the only high-speed broadband available is FWA that relies on unlicensed spectrum.

But some folks want that changed…

Seven U.S. senators sent a letter to Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, today urging NTIA to revise its definition of reliable broadband for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

So what’s the difference between licensed and unlicensed spectrums?

Here’s a definition from IotaComm. I was hoping for a less commercial perspective but also high level enough to take in easily.

Most of the radio spectrum is licensed by the FCC to certain users, for example, television and radio broadcasters. Individual companies pay a licensing fee for the exclusive right to transmit on an assigned frequency within a certain geographical area. In exchange, those users can be assured that nothing will interfere with their transmission.

Alternatively, organizations can still use the airwaves to transmit communications without getting permission from the FCC, but they must transmit within those parts of the spectrum that are designated for unlicensed users. The amount of spectrum that is available for public and unlicensed use is very small—only a few bands. Both the size of the area and the lack of exclusivity mean there’s greater potential for interference from other users located nearby. (It’s like the “wild west” of radio communication.)

The Telecompetitor article touches on it a little…

NTIA hasn’t said much about why it defined reliable broadband as it did. But David Zumwalt, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) told Telecompetitor a few months ago that NTIA’s primary concern was the future availability of unlicensed spectrum.

WISPA is particularly concerned about whether areas that already have unlicensed high-speed FWA will be eligible for overbuilding through the BEAD program, as many WISPA members already have made high-speed FWA deployments that rely on unlicensed spectrum.

Folks in Minnesota may have a special interest in this issue. According to the FCC map, LTD Broadband is serving a large portion Southern Minnesota with unlicensed spectrum, as the map below indicates.

EVENT Nov 30: FCC maps – the devil and the money are in the detail – real time tutorial happening November 30

I’ve been talking about the new FCC maps a lot because future funding is going to depend on them. So, it’s important that they are right. It’s so important that the FCC is posting tools and offering tutorials…

By this Public Notice, the Broadband Data Task Force (Task Force) announces the availability of technical assistance resources, including an upcoming November 30th workshop, to assist entities in preparing to file bulk challenges to fixed broadband availability data as part of the Broadband Data Collection (BDC).

Challenging the Map by Household

It seems like the easiest way to report an error in the mapping is to report it from the address from the map itself. You can enter an address then there’s a map where you can toggle easily from Fixed Broadband (wired and fixed wireless) and Mobile (think cell phone, hot spot) Broadband. If you think the information they are reporting is wrong you can submit a Location Challenge. Now when I looked at the map the other day that option popped right up. This time I had to click on my address on the map and then it showed up – in that sidebar section. It’s a simple form asking for name, email address, phone (optional), challenge type and two places for more information. Inherent in the form is the idea that they might contact you.

Bulk Challenge of the Map

If you think that swaths of your community are not fairly represented, you can submit a bulk challenge. Bulk challenges are much more complicated. I’m not a GIS expert or even that great with maps but I watched the first tutorial (below) and realized if it were up to me to submit claims, I’d need to phone a friend. I gleaned a few things that are helpful to know before you dive in.

  • The data that you submit to challenge must have been collected after June 30, 2022.
  • They will ask for contact info for every address.
  • The data they collect will go to the provider that seems to represent the location. They will have 10 days to offer the service or the location status is corrected as unserved on the map.
  • Inherent here is that submitting an address is tantamount to ordering service from the provider, which is quite a leap. Also, the provider will see who has reported on the service.

The process to submit data seems arduous to me. To be fair the process may be less arduous to someone who is better with maps and I am open to correction if I have misunderstood aspects of the tutorial.

The maps are created using data supplied by the providers. I’ve heard the process for submitting the data is time consuming so I recognize that they have put in effort but it seems like the process to make any corrections rests solely on the households or communities. I know with the Minnesota maps, the process is a little more equal. Someone reports a questionable address and the Office of Broadband Development follows up. I think the process is pretty similar with “bulk” reporting. (Another example of Minnesota being well above average?)

Here’s more info on the tutorials and tools from the FCC…

To help state, local, and Tribal governments, ISPs, and other entities compile their data and file fixed availability challenges, the Task Force has released two video tutorials. The first video provides an overview of the fixed bulk availability challenge process, and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKL_p8ieFDo. The second video walks filers through the process of submitting bulk fixed availability challenge data in the BDC system, and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaOlwJN_1RY. The Task Force previously released its Specifications for Bulk Fixed Availability Challenge and Crowdsource Data on September 15, 2022, which provides guidance on the requirements for filing bulk challenges to fixed broadband availability data.3 We encourage parties interested in submitting bulk fixed availability challenges to review this document in conjunction with the tutorial video. Additionally, the Task Force will hold a virtual technical assistance workshop on November 30, starting at 4:00 p.m. EDT to assist potential bulk filers in submitting their data. To participate in the workshop, interested parties should register to attend at: https://fcc[1]gov.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_F37YX5hRQJCHrVmLZsnqAg. Questions about bulk fixed availability challenges may be submitted in advance of or during the workshop to BDCWebinar@fcc.gov.

Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities talks up Broadband success

The Worthington Globe reports

While bonding-related projects regarding water infrastructure and housing, and grant programs for business and childcare facilities, remain an ongoing priority for CGMC, Seifert said there was success last session with their broadband goals. A total of $210 million was received for broadband funding, more than double the amount the CGMC lobbied for, as a result of federal COVID bills relegating extra funds.

“This was one area where Minnesota came out with $160 million from the feds,” Seifert said. “We had to match it up with $50 million from our budget surplus.”

While Seifert warned that deployment has been slow, it is underway and one of the “good news items” from the last session.

In addition to seeing work start again on matters left over from last year’s legislative session, Mayor Mike Kuhle asked about the state’s budget surplus, which Seifert projected to be north of $7 billion.

Broadband price disparities in Minneapolis are some of the worst

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

A house in the Audubon Park neighborhood of northeast Minneapolis, once redlined by federal agencies, pays $50 a month to CenturyLink for internet service with speeds up to 80Mbps.

Not far away, in a neighborhood that wasn’t redlined, that same $50 to CenturyLink buys high-speed fiber internet with speeds up to 200Mpbs.

Similar differences have been found in other Minneapolis neighborhoods as well as cities throughout the country, according to data released and analyzed by the tech news nonprofit the Markup. But Minneapolis has “one of the most striking disparities” among 38 U.S. cities examined, the nonprofit found.

“Formerly redlined addresses were offered the worst deals almost eight times as often as formerly better-rated areas” in Minneapolis, the report said. The group’s analysis focused on CenturyLink in Minneapolis, the provider offering the most fiber service in the city, but did not compare service offers among other providers in town.

In cities across the country, people living in homes in redlined areas got worse dollars-per-megabit internet deals, according to the nonprofit, which analyzed more than 800,000 internet service offers from AT&T, Verizon, EarthLink, and CenturyLink. It found that “all four routinely offered fast base speeds at or above 200Mbps in some neighborhoods for the same price as connections below 25Mbps in others.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as 25Mpbs or more.

Redlining was a government-backed effort that segregated Black families into particular neighborhoods deemed “undesirable” by the now-defunct Home Owners’ Loan Corp. Though the practice was outlawed in 1968, the impacts remain, affecting homeownership, education and other quality-of-life issues.

This was a hot topic on the Black Broadband Summit last week. Attendees talk about their own experience with high bills and slow speeds and the exacerbated need for broadband during the pandemic and civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. One solution notes was to treat utility as a utility…

“We allow monopolies for internet service because internet isn’t considered a utility like it should be,” Augustine said. “It should be like water. If you want to be a modern citizen of the world, you need high-speed internet. Otherwise, you’re automatically a second-class citizen.”

According to new FCC map Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at 25/3 – hmm

I have good news and bad news. According to new FCC map, Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. It’s good news if it’s true. It’s bad news if it’s not true and we lose out on federal broadband funding because the maps were wrong. According to maps from the Office of Broadband Development, the FCC maps are wrong. The areas shown in pink in the map below (on the right) do not have broadband at 25/3.

If you live in one of these areas, check out the map and report a location challenge if you think they FCC map is wrong. Once you look up your address, you’ll see the where to make a location challenge on the website.

If you are a community leader or a (potential?) provider in the area, you might think about how to get your neighbors to report overrepresentation or think about attending the tutorial from the FCC on how to file bulk challenges to the FCC’s broadband map on November 30.

FCC unveils pre-production broadband maps and speed test – try them out!

According to an FCC press release

The Federal Communications Commission today released a pre-production draft of its new National Broadband Map.  The map will display specific location-level information about broadband services available throughout the country – a significant step forward from the census block level data previously collected.  This release of the draft map kicks off the public challenge processes that will play a critical role in improving the accuracy of the map.  An accurate map is an important resource for targeting funding and other efforts to bring broadband to unserved and underserved communities.

“Today is an important milestone in our effort to help everyone, everywhere get specific information about what broadband options are available for their homes, and pinpointing places in the country where communities do not have the service they need,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “Our pre-production draft maps are a first step in a long-term effort to continuously improve our data as consumers, providers and others share information with us.  By painting a more accurate picture of where broadband is and is not, local, state, and federal partners can better work together to ensure no one is left on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The public will be able to view the maps at broadbandmap.fcc.gov and search for their address to see information about the fixed and mobile services that internet providers report are available there.  If the fixed internet services shown are not available at the user’s location, they may file a challenge with the FCC directly through the map interface to correct the information.  Map users will also be able correct information about their location and add their location to the map if it is missing.  The draft map will also allow users to view the mobile wireless coverage reported by cellular service providers.

The FCC today also announced the launch of an updated version of the FCC Speed Test App that will enable users to quickly compare the performance and coverage of their mobile networks to that reported by their provider.  The app allows users to submit their mobile speed test data in support of a challenge to a wireless service provider’s claimed coverage.  New users can download the FCC Speed Test App in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.  Existing app users should update the app to gain these new features.

A video tutorial and more information on how to submit challenges is available at fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers.

For more information about the BDC, please visit the Broadband Data Collection website at fcc.gov/BroadbandData.

I found an interesting perspective from Christopher Terry, a professor at the University of Minnesota

“More than 4,600 days after the Federal Communications Commission launched its National Broadband Plan, the agency is finally trying to correct its shortcomings of the last decade by more accurately mapping broadband deployment. The updated data will be used to make grants intended to resolve the digital divide across Minnesota in urban, rural and even Tribal areas. This is the agency’s last chance to achieve universal broadband deployment, and the success or failure of the FCC will have long term impacts on Minnesota’s economy.”

FCC unveils new broadband labels

According to an FCC press release

The Federal Communications Commission today unveiled new rules that will for the first time require broadband providers to display easy-to-understand labels to allow consumers to comparison shop for broadband services.  The Report and Order approved by the Commission creates rules that require broadband providers to display, at the point of sale, labels that show key information consumers want−prices, speeds, fees, data allowances, and other critical information.  The labels resemble the well-known nutrition labels that appear on food products. …

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere.  Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

 

Additionally, the new broadband labels will empower consumers with several features including:

 

  • Prominent Display. The Order ensures that consumers see their actual label when purchasing broadband by requiring providers to display the label – not simply an icon or link to the label – in close proximity to an associated plan advertisement.
  • Account Portals. The Order requires ISPs to make each customer’s label easily accessible to the customer in their online account portal, as well as to provide the label to an existing customer upon request.
  • Machine Readability. To further assist with comparison shopping, the Order requires that providers make the information in the labels machine-readable to enable third parties to more easily collect and aggregate data for the purpose of creating comparison-shopping tools for consumers.
  • Further Refinements. The Commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on ways that it can further refine and improve its rules in order to ensure that we further our consumer transparency goals.

Update and/or another look at Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)

I feel like I just can’t read about IIJA and all the federal broadband funding enough. Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has a nice update on the Digital Equity Act, which in a piece of IIJA. Here are the highlights; you can check out the site for greater detail…

The Digital Equity Act provides $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The programs focus on increasing broadband adoption and ensuring that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy. The three programs are:

  • State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program: A $60 million formula grant program for states, territories and Tribal governments to develop digital equity plans.
  • State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program: A $1.44 billion formula grant program for states, territories, and Tribal governments. It will fund an annual grant program for five years in support of digital equity projects and the implementation of digital equity plans.
  • Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program: A $1.25 billion grant program. It will fund annual grant programs for five years to implement digital equity projects.

Over the past year, the NTIA has focused on the planning grant program, encouraging states, territories and Tribal governments to develop digital equity plans in tandem with universal broadband access plans required for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program.

MN Broadband Task Force Nov 2022: Workshopping the report draft: reliability and costs

Today the Task Force went through drafts of their annual report. As much as possible, I have screen shots of the draft (in PPT form), which is really last year’s version with some updates. Then I have the documents they used to discuss the challenges and recommendations made by both sub-groups Affordability and Adoption Sub-Group AND Funding, Mapping and Usage Sub-Group. The screenshots of a Google Docs are really where the beef is.

The was discussion on consumer perception of broadband reliability with a leaning toward making sure that the provider perspective was understood as well. That very the problem isn’t with the connection but with the user and/or user equipment. There was also discussion about trying to come up with a cost to bring broadband to everyone in Minnesota. The average cost per household was penciled in as $9300. That is not far off previous numbers; I suspect it’s hard to anticipate shortages, price increases and natural barriers in reaching the last households. Also folks were wondering if broadband meant wired solutions only.

There was also an update from the Office of Broadband Development. They are currently hiring two grants managers and are looking at hiring more positions soon.

Full notes Continue reading

Senator Smith to support better broadband in next Farm Bill

Brownfield News reports

A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee wants to expand rural development opportunities in the next farm bill.

Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith says she’ll be looking for ways USDA can improve the way it meets the needs of rural communities.

“I’m talking about the deep need for reliable high-speed broadband, investing in communities and economic development. Improving access to healthcare and supporting critical access hospitals in rural areas.”