Lies, damned lies and mapping? Not quite but Senators are putting FCC on alert

That might be a slight exaggeration, but people have been questioning the maps for years and few on the ground have doubts about the exaggeration of the maps themselves. It matters because the maps often define who qualifies for government funding – state and federal. Today, Senator Manchin reports

Today, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced he has submitted over 2,000 broadband speed tests to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proving the FCC’s broadband coverage maps are wrong and must be fixed before the $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is distributed incorrectly. In June, Senator Manchin challenged West Virginians to submit 2,000 speed tests to the FCC by the end of the year. …

“With more than two months left in 2020, West Virginians have met and exceeded the goal I set earlier this year to submit 2,000 speed tests to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. I am impressed by their dedication and persistence in proving the FCC’s maps wrong and it is a testament to their efforts to improve broadband coverage for their families, friends, and neighbors in West Virginia. Last week, Chairman Pai agreed to update the maps before the $9 billion 5G Fund for Rural America is distributed, but that’s only one piece of the pie. The FCC is planning to finalize $16 billion in RDOF funding at the end of this month using their incorrect maps, shutting much of West Virginia out of the competition for this funding. It’s just plain wrong, and over 2,000 West Virginians have proven it. I won’t stop submitting West Virginians’ tests until the FCC agrees to use the updated maps to distribute RDOF and commits to creating a user-friendly public feedback system just like they are required to do under law. This fight is far from over, and I need West Virginians to please help me fight for better broadband for the Mountain State by submitting a speed test at https://www.manchin.senate.gov/speedtest.”

Wonder what you can do in Minnesota to combat the FCC maps? Take a Minnesota statewide broadband speed test!

Fastest and slowest rural broadband? MN not on either list

Good news or bad news? I’m not sure but SatelliteInternet recently posted the fastest and slowest broadband connections in rural America and Minnesota doesn’t make either list.

This site looks a lot like a commercial so I take much of what it says with a grain of salt but there are a number of provider options, including speeds and pridces in detail, which is nice for comparison to what you’re being offered in your community by these and other providers. They even outline the pros and cons of different services.

And they outline the issue…

According to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, 22.3% of rural Americans don’t have access to internet download speeds of at least 25 Mbps (which is the recommended speed for working from home and online schooling).4,5 And the numbers are even worse on Tribal lands, where 32.1% of Americans don’t have access to internet speeds of 25 Mbps.5

Yet in metropolitan areas, only 1.5% of Americans lack access to these same speeds.5 Rural America’s lackluster internet speeds contribute to the homework gap and a lower percentage of college graduates when compared to Americans living in metropolitan areas.

They outline their methodology, which I think it interesting as we look at statewide speed testing in Minnesota…

Our data comes from speed tests taken on HighSpeedInternet.com. We examined results from more than one million US speed tests to find the fastest and slowest average rural internet speeds.

We defined a “rural” city as a community with a population of less than 10,000 people that is geographically removed from an urban city, which we qualified as meaning it’s at least an hour drive away from the nearest major city. We also filtered out locations with fewer than 50 speed test results to ensure accurate representation of the city’s average speed. In all, we ranked and researched nearly 600 rural cities in the US.

RDOF Bidders Mapped from CNS – any bidders if your area?

Cooperative Network Services (CNS) shares (via email) an interative map for RDOF bidder and eligible areas…

505 potential bidders filed the FCC’s short form application to bid.
We mapped most of them to help you identify who your potential auction competitors might be, based on the blocks they report on the FCC form 477.
While the map is not comprehensive, it does illustrate that there could be a lot of competition in the auction.
If you have any questions, please reply.
If you’re still looking for precise RDOF location counts, or need a hand with the technical review of an “incomplete” short form, please reach out.

Here are two screenshots that I hope will be helpful . On the left is RDOF short form applicant bidders and on the right they’ve overlayed the final RDOF eligible blocks.

You can learn more about the map by clicking on the info buttonon the top right. Here’s the small print from the website about the map. It’s a reminder that it’s not comprehensive but helpdul nonetheless. They also include a key to the specific providers shown in the map…

For more information, raw data, or RDOF location count assistance, please contact Paul Solsrud paul.solsrud@cooperative-networks.com

For fully interactive data, CNS provides the CNS Broadband Operations map which includes 477 data for the Midwest as well as many other layers including ACAM, CAF, RDOF, Study Areas, etc. More information can be found here: https://www.cooperative-networks.com/broadband-operations-map-app/

This map represents the reported serving areas (derived from the most recently released FCC 477 data) of most of the assumed smaller RDOF Short Form Applicants and potential bidders in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. The goal of this map is to help potential bidders understand which entities are likely to bid on RDOF Eligible Census Block Groups.

This map is made from a dissolved data set meaning that all reported serving areas have been dissolved and flattened into one layer on the map. In some cases, there may be multiple providers who serve an area. This map does not individual feature data for provider areas, and has also been tiled to improve performance, and thus clicking a map location does not identify the reported carrier.

Due to a variety of factors, this is not a comprehensive list of bidders. Price Cap carriers like Frontier, Centurylink, Consolidated, Verizon, Windstream,  are not included since they cover and surround the RDOF eligible areas. Of the 505 short form applicants, 166 were not readily matched to their reported 477 data. 27 of these were matched using additional sources. This leaves approximately 139 short form applicants as either being Price Cap, a part of a bidding consortium, a new market entrant, existing carriers using a new FRN, and or new or different holding company name, Satellite provider, large Cellular, etc.

Since it’s not possible to know which carriers may be included in a consortium, the areas identified in this map are not complete or comprehensive.

Some providers who do not appear on the map are providers who only recently have begun offering services and the 477 data does not reflect their recent build outs. Other providers like Charter use “CCO Holdings’” FRN for their short form application. Other providers used a variety of methods that appear to obfuscate who may be behind the bidding entity.

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation ask people in South MN to take the MN Broadband speed test

Owatonna”s People’s Press reports…

outhern Minnesota Initiative Foundation is seeking input from community members in southern Minnesota to help define where broadband service is available and what speeds people are receiving. SMIF is partnering with the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, among other partners, on this Minnesota Speed Test Initiative by asking people in its 20-county region to take a one-minute test.

The pandemic has highlighted how important access to broadband is for every Minnesotan now that more people are working, learning and receiving care from home. “There is no doubt that the lack of broadband in rural Minnesota hampers telework, distance learning and telehealth,” said Vince Robinson, Chair of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition.

The speed test can be taken with any device that has an internet or cellular connection and takes less than one minute to complete. No personal information will be collected. For people who are unable to access the internet at all, please call 715-222-2824 to take the test. The test can be found at mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest.

Incorrect MN broadband maps making some areas ineligible for broadband grant and leaving students offline

MinnPost reports on folks in rural areas trying to keep up with distance eudcation depsite spotty broadband and the maps that are overstating their access and making it harder to get grants and other funding to upgrade to sufficient broadband. They spoke with a family in in Lake Shore, a northern Minnesota community served by the Brainerd Public Schools district – but I’ve heard similar in other places too…

Ideally, for a faster, more reliable connection, they’d connect their home to the local provider’s nearest cable hub box, located just a quarter mile down their driveway. But it’s never going to happen, Moore says, because the expense of building out that connection isn’t an economical one for the provider.

She’d like to apply for state grant dollars allocated to these very projects in rural communities. But on state maps, her household gets marked as covered by a local provider — a glitch in the system that makes her and many in her community ineligible.

“Until that gets fixed, lots of communities like ours are going to be passed over. We’ll still have kids going to school, people working from home,” she said. “We’re waiting for the system to catch up with reality.”

The article gives a deserved nod to Rep Ecklund and Sen Westrom, who have each been pushing funding in the Minnesota Legislature. And shows the DEED served/unserved map – that most readers will know (also show at right). They talk about the school’s survey too..

In early May, the state Department of Education asked all public school districts and charter schools to self-report the number of individual students without internet access or access to a device for distance learning. The data set isn’t complete, but based on the counts provided by 540 districts and charter schools — including the state’s three largest districts — 20,899 students were still lacking access to a device in early May, and 21,523 were still lacking internet access.

According to the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA), those counts seem a bit low. Their analysis shows that nearly 31,000 rural public students live in households that do not have adequate broadband access (defined as a connection with at least 25 Mbps download speed and at least 3 Mbps upload speed), accounting for 85 percent of the statewide total. The association arrived at these estimates by combining the Minnesota State Office of Broadband Development coverage maps with the American Community Survey data on households with persons under age 18 in each school district, along with state Department of Education data on 2018-19 student enrollment.

I know the survey I received as a parent did not define broadband or access. It asked if we had access to the Internet. I’ve heard the same from folks in other districts. So access at grandma’s may have been counted – even if that isn’t’ 25/3.

Another deserved nod to broadband providers and recognition that they cannot keep giving away access AND invest in future, better soltuions…

The scope of the need, when it comes to closing the digital divide, has also been blurred by the goodwill of providers that stepped up by offering free services and hotspots to districts and families across the state, to finish out the school year from home. …

“It’s not a sustainable model, for the long-term,” she said. “We’ll have to figure out something else.”

 

Broadband maps are unreliable – even in Minnesota

Broadband Breakfast reports…

Broadband Breakfast Live Online panelists on Wednesday said that current broadband maps are insufficient and that they are harming the people they are meant to serve.

The forum was an opportunity for participants to describe the state of broadband in their respective areas as well as the applications of various services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speakers included Glenn Fishbine, chief technology officer at NEO Partners, LLC, Eric Frederick, vice president for community affairs at Connected Nation, Brian Webster, CEO of Wireless Mapping Inc. and Russ Elliot, director of the Washington State Broadband Office.

The article include a map “showcasing areas in which Connected Nation had low confidence in broadband connectivity reports — which included almost all supposedly connected regions.” I’ve included it here and you can see what Minnesota looks like.

They used an example from Minnesota…

For example, a Minnesota broadband company called Radio Link Internet offers 300-megabyte symmetric wireless, which disqualifies areas under its service for grants. But a NEO Partners study found that Radio Link had not undergone an LTD speed test in the previous 12 months.

“We are seeing the impact of bad reporting by individual ISPs either because they’re clumsy or they don’t know what they’re doing or because the process is broken,” Fishbine said. “But this is taking a large number of communities out of the pool of potential grant applications.”

Webster said that for broadband maps to transition away from clunky inaccuracy, they have to move to the household level.

It’s hard to get good mapping. Broadband coverage changes almost daily. The ISP tends to report in broadband swaths, which can overstate coverage. Speed tests rely on so many moving pieces including broadband speed between the connection to the node, to the home and then the quality of the device. But these maps are important because eligibility for funding – for billions of dollars – is often based on mapping.

Connect Minnesota Mapping Update

Yesterday Brent Legg from Connected Nation gave a presentation to the Minnesota Commerce and Labor Committee Telecom Regulation and Infrastructure Division. (You can download audio of the meeting.) As you may recall, Connect Minnesota, a subsidiary of Connected Nation, received almost $500,000 for broadband planning activities over a five-year period in Minnesota from the NTIA as part of the ARRA broadband funding. Brent was kind enough to share his presentation with me. It’s a sneak preview of sorts since they will be doing a more formal launch of their finding in two weeks. (The details aren’t set, I’ll post them when I get them, but it sounds like a webinar during the week of May 17.)

The presentation outlines the project objectives:

  • To further develop strong working relationships with all of Minnesota’s broadband providers and support an environment of public/private collaboration on broadband issues among all stakeholders
  • To update and improve Minnesota’s detailed maps of broadband coverage and launch a new robust, more user-friendly interactive map
  • To utilize the resulting maps to accurately pinpoint any remaining gaps in broadband availability
  • To assess the level of connectivity currently provided to Minnesota’s “community anchor institutions” (i.e., schools, libraries, hospitals, etc.)
  • To assess broadband use among Minnesota’s businesses and residents, and identify barriers to broadband adoption, and
  • To support the work of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force’s successor as needed

It sounds as if they have had success getting data from providers. Their most recent maps include data from 100 out of 120 providers. More data is expected from 18 more providers; two providers have elected not to participate in the mapping.

Spoiler alert – here are their key findings:

  • 95.55% of Minnesota households have access to broadband service of at least 768 kbps downstream
  • 4.45% of Minnesota households are unserved, representing approximately 93,000 unserved households

They have created a tool (BroadbandStat) that will allow end user to perform interactive searches, such as search for and identify broadband service at a specific address, including available speeds and service providers. (You can learn more about the functionality of BroadbandStat on slide 11.)

Connect Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Commerce are working together on the mapping. As part of the project award, Connect Minnesota was required to have a state partner; their partner is the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The Department of Commerce is establishing a project steering committee to work directly with Connect Minnesota. Getting the State and Connect Minnesota working together is great – some of my favorite maps coming out of the initial efforts were the maps created when DEED and Connect Minnesota seemed to work together to create maps for the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force meeting in March 2009.

I’m looking forward to learning more at the formal/public launch.

Connect Minnesota on mapping plans

Connect Minnesota received approximately $1.2 million for broadband data collection and mapping activities over a two-year period and almost $500,000 for broadband planning activities over a five-year period in Minnesota, bringing the total grant award to approximately $1.7 million. I posted on that late last year. (Or you can see the press release here.)

The Connect Minnesota folks were kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the upcoming mapping project:

How specifically will the new maps build on the old?

The new mapping project will differ in several ways from the previous work that we have done in Minnesota. The new project will consist of the following activities:

  1. Updating and maintaining the broadband availability map for at least two years
  2. Gathering speed data by provider
  3. Identifying and assessing the level of connectivity at each of the state’s “community anchor institutions” (government offices, schools, libraries, hospitals, emergency services operations centers, etc).
  4. More robust on-the-ground availability data validation
  5. Research on broadband use and barriers to broadband adoption at the county level and benchmarking that research on a yearly basis for five years
  6. Launching a new, more user-friendly interactive broadband mapping application called BroadbandStat, which will allow greater flexibility and customization

Will you be looking at the demand issues?

As mentioned above, we will be undertaking a rather exhaustive survey research project where we will assess broadband usage and barriers to broadband adoption, among several other things, on a yearly basis for five years. That will allow us to benchmark the results over time. This work will be done on a county-by-county basis, so statistically-significant results will be available for each county. Relevant statistics will also be added as an additional data layer to the interactive mapping application called BroadbandStat. Additionally, we will continue to collect broadband inquiries via the Connect Minnesota web site, http://www.connectmn.org, and keep a record of high demand in unserved areas.

Will you be able to focus more on testing the numbers supplied by providers?

The new mapping program will allow for a more robust data verification process that will involve more on-the-ground data validation by our engineering team. Additionally, the survey research data and the broadband inquiries received via the web site will be matched up with the coverage information on the map to see where discrepancies exist.

I know you were able to get most of the providers to cooperate – but is there an approach to get the stragglers to engage too?

We will continue to reach out to all providers across the state to build relationships and collect data. Since this is a stimulus-funded program, there are actually more opportunities and benefits for providers to participate – especially since being included on the maps and information delivery to NTIA allows the provider to be eligible for future grants and funding.

How does the earlier map give us a leg up on a better end product or save us money?

Having broadband mapping completed in the past certainly gives the state a leg up, as providers are familiar with Connected Nation and the processes necessary to collect and aggregate the data to create the maps. This allows us to go back to these providers that we have already developed relationships with to collect the additional pieces requested by NTIA and any updates to their service areas. The earlier map will also allow us to track broadband deployment progress for a longer period of time.

Will you be updating the map incrementally or providing a sneak preview as you did with the earlier map?

As of right now, the maps will be updated every six months past the initial delivery to NTIA. Map updates will correspond to these deliveries. The online map will be updated on an ongoing basis. Just like we did for the earlier Connect Minnesota map we will encourage consumers to play a role in the verification of the maps – and as that feedback comes in we will make updates in real time to any discrepancies that are found.

Will you be able to employ local folks to get the job done?

For mapping purposes, CN’s staff will be augmented through the use of a few subcontractors, selected through a competitive bid process approved by the NTIA and the state agencies of each state that Connected Nation is working with. We’re always looking for opportunities to bring people onboard who live in the states in which we are working.

What will/can be done to keep the maps updated in the future?

NTIA has requested maintenance updates every six months past the initial delivery of broadband information. We will be reaching out to all providers continuously for updates to service areas and information.

How much of the raw data or segment of single factors be available?

Data requested for delivery to NTIA has been deemed public. Connected Nation has worked with ESRI to develop an appropriate interface for public consumption that will contain some of these pieces as well as an interactive interface for information on available services.

Will guys continue to be generous with overlaying the demographic info (economic map et al) with the broadband maps?

Yes, we will continue creating the demographic maps based on the NTIA requested information. The BroadbandStat web application will also allow for greater customization for Minnesota, and will provide a more user-friendly interface for overlaying multiple data layers, and adjusting the transparency of each one to create better views.