EVENT Feb 16: ILSR’s Building for Digital Equity Returns

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports

Save the date! ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks team is back for a second season of our Building for Digital Equity series.

You can register now here.

The free online live stream will be held on Feb. 16 from 2-3 pm CST/3-4 pm ET.

We will unpack how local communities are working with their states to challenge the FCC’s broadband maps, bringing together local stakeholders, policy advocates, and GIS and Data Visualization Specialists in one place. We will also cover local organizing for better broadband and the latest on the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

Update on MN PUC LTD Broadband situation – no update from FCC

This is an ongoing saga that many of us are watching closely and some might want a little recap…

The Minnesota PUC decided to continue to move forward looking at revoking LTD Broadband’s ETC designation. (Background: LTD was awarded an opportunity to apply for$311 million in federal RDOF funding. They needed the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify; industry folks asked the MN PUC to rethink their designation because there were concerns about LTD being able to fulfill the contract. Last month, their application for RDOF was rejected.)

The latest update is a letter from LTD Broadband reporting that they have asked the FCC to reconsider their decision…

LTD Broadband submitted an Application for Reconsideration (AFR) to the FCC on September 8, 2022. As of February 1, 2023 this application remains pending and the FCC has taken no action

Do you have a broadband story to tell? Give it to the FCC

The FCC is looking for stories to help them with their efforts to prevent digital discrimination. If you have a story, please share it with the FCC- and you’re welcome to send to me as well and perhaps I could share it here too…

The FCC’s Task Force to Prevent Digital Discrimination today announced it is offering consumers an opportunity to share their stories and experiences in obtaining broadband internet access. Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel established the Task Force to serve as a cross-agency effort focused on creating rules and policies to combat digital discrimination and to promote equal access to broadband access across the country, regardless of zip code, income level, ethnicity, race, religion, or national origin. …

In furtherance of the goals to create a framework for addressing digital discrimination and the FCC’s ongoing efforts to identify and address harms experienced by historically excluded and marginalized communities, this new form provides a way for consumers to share their broadband access experiences. Stories shared by consumers will help to inform the work of the Task Force. For more information about the Task Force’s work, visit the Task Force’s webpage. Interested stakeholders also can use this webpage to request meetings with the Task Force.

Review Your Broadband Map to Improve Border-to-Border Access: from Office of Broadband Development

This is a guest post of sorts from By Bree Maki, Executive Director of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development…

Recently, Governor Tim Walz announced that internet providers will receive nearly $100 million in funding to expand broadband coverage to more Minnesotans.  This largest-ever grant round is estimated to extend new high-speed internet connections to more than 33,000 Minnesota homes and businesses in 48 counties.

At the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development, we’re working hard to get broadband to more Minnesotans who need it. Now, we need your help to make that a reality.

As part of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, $65 billion in funding is available to states for broadband. We’re excited to implement the bill’s programs, but much of our funding relies on a new mapping project from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to show where broadband is and is not available.

The FCC is accepting challenges to their new map right now, and we encourage all Minnesotans to review the map to see if the broadband speeds shown to be available at their address are correct. Local review of the broadband maps is important, as residents know best if the mapping information is accurate. Minnesotans can go to broadbandmap.fcc.gov to review their map and provide feedback.

To review the map, type in your address. Your home should appear on the map along with a list of services that providers claim to have available for purchase at your location. If your location is missing or inaccurately reflected on the map, you can submit a location challenge to correct it. If the information about the service provided is incorrect, you can file an availability challenge. Detailed video instructions on how to file a challenge can be found at fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers.

Our goal is border-to-border broadband coverage across Minnesota. Future federal funding will be allotted based on the number of locations in Minnesota that do not have broadband services available right now. To ensure valid challenges are incorporated into the map before federal funding allocations are made, Minnesotans have until Jan. 13, 2023 to submit feedback.

This year, between 240,000 and 291,000 households in Minnesota lacked access to high-speed broadband. So much of what we do happens online, which is why we want to ensure all Minnesotans have access to high-speed internet.

All Minnesotans deserve equal access to high-speed broadband. If you have any questions, please reach out to the Office of Broadband at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us

FCC announces latest RDOF winners – None in Minnesota

The FCC reports

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), in conjunction with the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), authorizes Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (Auction 904) support for the winning bids identified in Attachment A of this Public Notice.
For each of the winning bids identified in Attachment A, we have reviewed the long-form application information, including the letter(s) of credit and Bankruptcy Code opinion letter(s) from the long-form applicant’s legal counsel. Based on the representations and certifications in the relevant long-form application, we authorize and obligate support for the winning bids listed in Attachment A.

Carver County MN encourages residents to report inaccuracies on FCC broadband map

Carver County is asking local residents to check their addresses on FCC map…

Carver County residents lacking access to high-speed internet service need to check the accuracy of Federal Communications Commission maps to ensure future Federal funding of broadband projects to the County.

The Federal government has pledged between $40-60 billion in funding nationwide, basing its award formula on current maps. Those maps, County officials discovered, often aren’t accurate in terms of County locations without high-speed service or mistaken about the actual service and speeds available to customers.

County residents and business should visit the FCC website, where they can check the FCC’s information regarding high-speed internet availability and listed providers. If the information proves inaccurate, users should use the accompanying form to report the inaccurate information to the FCC. Providing accurate information bolsters the County’s chances at receiving more Federal dollars to support current broadband projects through more accurate maps.

“Making sure the FCC’s maps contain accurate information for Carver County helps ensure we receive our fair share of Federal funding in support of all County locations having high-speed internet access,” said Gayle Degler, Carver County Board of Commissioner’s chair and District 1 representative.

“We know the importance of high-speed internet access for all our residences and businesses for work-from-home opportunities, educational needs, and small business support,” said Commissioner John P. Fahey, who represents District 5, covering the majority of the western portion of the County, which are primarily rural. “Having this access in our smaller communities and Townships gives people greater choices in where to live, where to locate small businesses, and encourages growth across the County.”

These submissions are due by Jan. 13, 2023. The Federal program’s allocations are scheduled to begin disbursement in 2023 and beyond. The County likely would use any funding in similar fashion as its Connect Up Carver Initiative by partnering with private service providers to bring the actual access to residents and businesses, leveraging the County’s CarverLink network.

Consumer Reports on the FCC Broadband maps and how you can make them better

I’ve written about the maps before, but with a deadline of Jan 13, 2023 to comment on them, I figure it’s worth speaking again. Consumer Reports recognizes the inaccuracies and tells readers how to report when their address appears to have wrong broadband info…

A few weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission released a new national broadband map, which is supposed to help consumers see their options for internet service. Just as important, the map will be used to help determine where some $42.5 billion in federal funds will go to build out better access in places where high-speed, affordable broadband is lacking.

The map has quickly become a battleground for states, including Colorado, New York, and Vermont, which say it doesn’t accurately reflect how many of their citizens lack fast access to the internet. If the FCC map understates the problem, state officials say, they won’t get the funding needed to address the problem.

Despite arguments over the new FCC map, it’s widely acknowledged to be more accurate than the previous version. To judge for yourself, you can plug in your address—and let the FCC know if you find an inaccuracy.

They recognize that the maps mean money…

The new funding was allocated by last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which set up the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program to help more Americans get online. An agency called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will distribute funds to states based on how many of their residents lack broadband access.

The money could go to big internet service providers such as Comcast or Spectrum to help them build out connections to new neighborhoods and homes, but it can also be directed to smaller providers, private/public partnerships, and cooperatives, including municipal broadband projects. Any project that receives money from the states will be required to provide an affordable option for low-income households.

How you can help make the maps better…

The information in the map is being provided by internet service providers. To see if you agree with what they’ve told the FCC, you can check the FCC national broadband map yourself. Type in your address and the national map will zoom in to your neighborhood, which will be covered with locations with green dots, one for each location where internet service is available. Click on your home, and you’ll see the various options for service.

Challenges can be made on two fronts—address accuracy and service availability. If your address doesn’t appear, you can click on “challenge location.” You can also submit a challenge if the map says a company offers service at your location, but it really doesn’t. Click the “availability challenge” button in the same box. That will bring up a form where you can challenge the information.

Scroll down, complete the form, and choose the reason for your challenge from the drop-down list. You can upload files— screenshots, photos, and emails—that support your challenge. You can also write a description of your experience in the form. Once you hit “submit” your claim will be reviewed by the FCC. If accepted, the agency will pass it on to the internet provider. If the ISP disagrees with you, it will contact you and try to resolve the issue. If the issue can’t be resolved, the FCC will decide who’s right—and if you win the challenge, the ISP has to update its availability data on the map within 30 days of the decision.

The FCC’s new online help center is available to provide assistance with the process.

Need help challenging the FCC maps to ensure funding comes to MN? ILSR can help.

I’ve written about the importance the FCC maps. They will be used to determine where funding will be invested for improved broadband. People are invited to visit the maps to check the veracity of their marked level of broadband. If they find inaccuracies, they are asked to report them. Or whole communities can report locations. But the maps have been found to be tricky. TO help, the Institute for Local Self Reliance has come up with a step-by-step guide to help folks…

In an effort to provide a better understanding of the map itself, and the challenge process, we created a short series of instructional videos and a click-through guide. Through the videos we provide:

  • An overview of the map itself, important features to be aware of, and how to navigate the map interface.
  • Walk-through of the location challenge process (The deadline for submitting location challenges is Jan. 13, 2023).
  • Walk-through of the broadband availability challenge process (i.e., issues with claims of availability in the map made by Internet service providers).

The challenge guide is in pdf format and was designed to allow users to click links to navigate to the resources they need. Similar to information shared in the videos (below), this resource includes instructions for both the location and availability challenges, as well as more detailed information about valid reasons for submitting those challenges.

We also include a timeline of the availability challenge process, and links to FCC resources for those interested in submitting a bulk challenge. You can find the challenge guide here.

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.

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.

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.