Tag: "mapping"

Posted May 12, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Late last month, we reported on Frontier Communications’ claim that it now offers broadband in 17,000 rural census blocks in an effort to remove those areas from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming rural broadband funding program. At the time, we expressed concerns that the provider may be exaggerating Internet speeds, and after publishing that article, we heard from Frontier subscribers, local officials, and private companies who shared their own doubts over the accuracy of the company’s reporting.

Earlier today, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance filed comments with the FCC to draw attention to Frontier’s questionable claims. “We are concerned that Frontier may have overstated its capacity to actually deliver the claimed services in many areas,” the comments read.

We call on the FCC to either investigate or to simply refuse Frontier’s disputable claims to ensure unserved rural areas aren’t prevented from receiving subsidies to expand broadband access. The comments argue:

Allowing Frontier to so remove hundreds of thousands of Americans from one of the most significant rural broadband programs in history would send a strong message that there is no claim too far that the Commission will be skeptical of . . . Frontier is all but inviting the Commission to make an example of it and serve notice that the Commission intends to ensure Americans in rural regions have real opportunities to connect rather than continuing to play games with bankrupt firms.

Download ILSR’s comments to the FCC at the agency's website or below.

Inconsistent Reports Raise a Red Flag

We have seen inconsistencies in Frontier’s past reports to the FCC on its broadband offerings, which the company is required to file twice a year. A few years ago, Frontier reduced reported speeds in a number of census blocks from 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload — the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband — to just below broadband speeds.

Our analysis of federal data shows that the 17,000 census blocks that the company recently reported as having access to broadband have seen similar inconsistencies. In December 2018, Frontier claimed that more than 3,000 of those blocks suddenly had...

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Posted April 27, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the yawning gaps in broadband access throughout the country. Yet the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in its 2020 Broadband Deployment Report released on April 24, found that “advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis,” in effect turning a blind eye to the students parked outside libraries to access Wi-Fi, housebound seniors cut off from telehealth services, and struggling businesses left behind by the economy’s move online.

The agency came to this conclusion despite years of concern over how the FCC’s flawed data collection method systematically overstates broadband coverage. “We need to do a better job collecting data,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai admitted nearly three years ago, adding, “It’s often said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

2020 Report Lacks 20/20 Vision

Every year, the FCC must report on the expansion of Internet access in the country and determine whether broadband is being deployed in a “reasonable and timely fashion.”

In this year’s report, the FCC said, “Given the compelling evidence before us, we find for the third consecutive year that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.” As support, the FCC noted:

The number of Americans lacking access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 25/3 Mbps continues to decline, going down by more than 14 percent in 2018 . . . The vast majority of Americans — surpassing 85 percent — now have access to fixed terrestrial broadband service at 250/25.

This is a bold claim, considering the FCC has a tenuous understanding of where broadband is actually available. Everyone, from Congress and state governments to FCC commissioners themselves, agrees that the agency’s current method of collecting coverage information, Form 477, routinely exaggerates broadband availability. Since access is reported by census block, an entire block is considered served if only one house has Internet access. Furthermore, companies self-report the data with limited oversight, which lets providers...

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Posted February 20, 2020 by lgonzalez

Determining the state of broadband in a local community can be challenging for professional who conduct surveys and develop feasibility studies. Finding out the same information on a state level is an even more complex task. Nevertheless, North Carolina is tackling the job and earlier this month, the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) shared data indices that shine a light on the state of broadband access, adoption, and how the digital divide plays out across the state.

It's More than Mapping

In December 2019, we spoke with Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, who discussed their work in mapping and examining the Office's attempts to gather a more accurate picture of how and where people in the state use and access the Internet.

Listen to them discuss the project here. They talked as part of our special series on North Carolina connectivity that we're creating in collaboration with NC Broadband Matters:

The indices look at county-level data and reveal a variety of factors. Some results are a stark reality that the digital divide has widened as technology in some regions has advanced — such as indicators that show people have only DSL service and no Internet access at all juxtaposed against those communities where a majority of folks subscribe to available fiber optic connectivity.

These indices were designed...

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Posted January 15, 2020 by shrestha

Farmers depend on Internet connectivity like any other businesses for daily office tasks such as record keeping, reporting, banking, and marketing. This dependency stretches further as daily farming productivity depend on GPS-based applications that enable real-time data collection giving accurate information on soil fertility, field mapping, and other farm-related tasks. An October 2019 report from the United Soybean Board (USB) describes how poor connectivity is striking at the heart of America’s agricultural industry.

Profitability and Sustainability: Threatened 

The report, titled Rural Broadband and the American Farmer [PDF]  reveals that 60 percent of U.S. farmers and ranchers do not have adequate Internet connectivity to run their business and 78 percent do not have a choice in Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The USB study touches on how poor Internet connectivity in rural parts of the country has negatively impacted profitability and sustainability in farming.

Among 2,000 farmers surveyed by the USB, 59 percent of  farmers plan to incorporate more data onto their system and 28 percent are considering more data usage. Most also want to use high-tech and data transfer applications but the impact of poor connectivity and unreliable Internet service does not allow them to do so. Michael H., a soybean farmer in south-central Louisiana said that, “Without the right support network, we can’t even consider taking advantage of getting real-time information from one piece of equipment to another.” Up to 33 percent of farmers said poor connectivity has affected their equipment purchases.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reports that farming productivity contributes nearly $133 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) but lack of connectivity has heavily impacted farmers to contribute only $80 billion. 

Arkansas soybean, cotton, and corn farmer Vonda K. explained:

We need both financial sustainability and sustainability of the land. I would like to have more moisture sensors, to know exactly what’s going on. We have a couple of wells that we can shut off remotely, but I would love to...

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Posted December 5, 2019 by lgonzalez

This week is episode three of the new podcast project we're working on with the nonprofit NC Broadband Matters, whose focus is on bringing ubiquitous broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses in North Carolina. 

The ten episode podcast series, titled "Why NC Broadband Matters," explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina.

logo-nc-hearts-gigabit.png This week, Christopher and his guests explore mapping in our episode titled, "Broadband Mapping Means Money: Understanding How Data Drives Decisions.”

He talks first with Brian Rathbone, Co-Founder of Broadband Catalysts, a consulting firm that works with communities, non-profits, corporations, and governments to expand broadband Internet access. Brian and Christopher dig into federal mapping data and talk about some of the challenges in obtaining accurate data.

Jeff Sural works as Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology. He and Christopher take the mapping conversation to the state level. Jeff describes the work of the Office and explains why it's important that the state have the most accurate information possible. He explains state methods that involve citizen input about Internet access to help them get a more accurate picture of connectivity for residents and businesses in North Carolina.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 54 minutes long and can be played on this page...

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Posted October 29, 2019 by lgonzalez

In August 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that they would begin to restructure their data collection techniques forming the basis of national broadband availability maps. The nonprofit Free Press submitted comments, as did the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and other organizations that consider correct mapping data a key element to expanding access to broadband. In this episode of the podcast, Free Press Research Director Derek Turner and Christopher talk about the proceeding and different perspectives toward moving forward.

Christopher and Derek discuss current problems, suggestions for correcting them, and what the FCC should continue to do as part of data collection. At the heart of current FCC data collection is Form 477, which several broadband advocates suggest should be scrapped. Turner disagrees with starting from scratch, however, and explains that Form 477 still contains data that researchers find valuable beyond visualizations.

Derek talks about how we came to this point in history and the origins of Form 477, which explain many of the reasons why the FCC maps overstate actual broadband coverage. He and Christopher touch on rural data collection from Microsoft, which looks at subscriptions, and compare those results to FCC data.

You can read the comments to the FCC from Free Press here [PDF] and check out on their work...

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Posted October 15, 2019 by lgonzalez

When local communities apply for funding to improve local Internet infrastructure, grants and loans are often predicated on the need to deploy to unserved and underserved premises. Whether it's federal, state, or local sources, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data determining whether or not a region has access to broadband is often the data that funding entities rely on. In recent years, it’s become apparent that FCC data grossly understates the lack of accessibility to broadband. Finally in August 2019, the FCC called for comments as they reconsider how to collect fixed broadband data. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance teamed up with Next Century Cities and several other organizations with whom we often collaborate, submitted both Comments and Reply Comments.

Fixing the Bad Data

We’ve covered this before, and the Commission has now decided to make changes. Traditionally, FCC data on broadband Internet access has been collected from Internet service providers (ISPs) that self-report on the areas they serve via Form 477. If a company has the ability to serve one premise in a census block they report to the Commission that they serve the entire block. Reality, however, often does not reflect such a high level of connectivity in one area.

When FCC data incorrectly determines that locations have the ability to subscribe to one or more Internet access companies, those areas lose eligibility for grants and loans for Internet network infrastructure. Sadly, these places are often caught in a strange purgatory between faulty FCC data and reality in which they can’t obtain funding to build out high-quality Internet access, and yet large Internet access companies don’t consider their areas a good investment due to low population densities.

logo-ilsr.PNG For years now, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and other organizations have worked to bring attention to the problem. A few lawmakers have pushed for change and several states, including Georgia and...

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Posted October 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mapping has long been criticized for inaccuracies. Now, state and local initiatives are taking up the challenge of poor broadband mapping and developing ways to create their own maps that better reflect the reality of broadband coverage in their communities. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) recently showcased several county-level maps they’ve developed that provide the detail that FCC maps lack.

Therein the Problem Lies

As experts have noted, FCC data on which maps are based are inadequate because their foundation is based on census blocks. If one premise in a census block can be served by an Internet access provider, that provider will report on the Form 477 that the entire census block is served. In rural areas where census blocks can be very large tracts of land, this can leave many premises indicated as served but actually unserved. 

We developed this graphic to illustrate the issue:

diagram-census-blocks-2018.jpg

When local communities apply for funding that’s based on the need to connect unserved and underserved premises, they can be disqualified due to incorrect mapping data. For local leaders who need to get their communities connected and expect to apply for grants and loans, FCC mapping can derail their funding and delay or end a proposed project.

This past August, the FCC announced that they will finally take steps to improve mapping and began seeking comments on the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Read the announcement [PDF].

Fixing the Maps

In Georgia, the GBDI sought to obtain information on a more granular level to obtain an accurate representation of where residents and businesses need to be connected and where they lack the kind of connectivity they need. 

According to GBDI Director Deanna Perry, staff developed a database of all premises located within the targeted counties they...

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Posted September 13, 2019 by lgonzalez

A mapping method to accurately depict broadband coverage in the U.S. remains elusive. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that they intend to work on the issue but officials in North Carolina aren’t waiting. They’ve launched their own efforts to document Internet access speeds in order to challenge to the FCC’s broadband coverage map, the basis for many loan and grant programs.

North Carolina began seeking self-reporting data from residents in 2017 via their online NC OneMap tool. With only around 6,000 people using the tool, however, state officials such as Jeff Sural have decided to seek help from the Measurement Lab (M-Lab), which has launched similar projects in Seattle and Pennsylvania. Sural is the state’s director of Department of Technology’s broadband infrastructure office and he's seeking ways to ensure communities in North Carolina have access to funding to expand rural broadband access.

Streamlining for the Masses

The goal of the new effort will be to make gathering the data as simple as possible. The NC OneMap site requires users to jump from a speed testing page back to the mapping site in several steps. M-Lab and North Carolina want to develop an application that will gather upload and download speed, IP address and coordinates of the device at the time of the test. They also plan to collect information on ISP, latency, and whether the connection is throttled or manipulated in any way. 

In an interview with StateScoop, Sural said:

“So far, one thing we have gleaned from our crowdsourcing tool is that there are a number of locations in areas where the FCC says there is [download coverage of 25 megabits per second and an upload rate of 3 Mbps] that are not getting those speeds.”

Faulty Maps Need Fixing

Officials seeking funding for unserved and underserved areas find themselves blocked due to grossly overstated FCC coverage and are looking for methods to collect data on their own. Because service to one premise in a census block deems that particular block to be “served” by the FCC, large rural swaths of property with no access or poor access are wrongly categorized and ineligible for a...

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Posted July 12, 2019 by Katie Kienbaum

At the beginning of the year, our Community Broadband Networks team visited North Carolina as part of the Let’s Connect speaking tour. While preparing for the trip and after returning to Minnesota, we researched and mapped Internet access and broadband funding in the state. Here’s what we found.

Broadband Availability by County

According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data, which is riddled with errors and fundamentally overstates coverage, almost 95 percent of North Carolina has access to broadband speeds of a minimum of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Despite seemingly widespread connectivity, many rural parts of the state are still not connected. While the FCC data shows that nearly all of urban North Carolina has access to broadband and about 97 percent has access to higher speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps, more than 15 percent of rural North Carolina is entirely without broadband and more than 24 percent lacks access to speeds of 100 Mbps/10 Mbps.

However, far more North Carolinians don't have Internet access than the FCC says, particularly in rural communities. The FCC's data collection method relies on self-reporting by providers at the census block-level, which inherently exaggerates the extent of broadband coverage. Even if a provider offers Internet access to only one home within a census block, the entire census block is counted as served. Rural areas, where the census blocks are large and homes are far apart, are especially harmed by this approach.

View the map below to see which parts of the state have high-speed Internet access, according to FCC data.

For greater detail, download the county-level maps from this Dropbox folder.

NC Internet Service Availability by County

Cooperatives Connect Rural N.C.

Rural North Carolina isn’t entirely devoid of high-...

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