Tag: "mapping"

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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Posted June 28, 2019 by Jess Del Fiacco

Maps produced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) show that the vast majority of Pennsylvanians have broadband access, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. In order to get a clearer picture of on-the-ground broadband access and availability, a team from Pennsylvania State University proposed a research project for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (CRPA) that would analyze millions of speed tests from around the state. A few staff members from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance were recruited to help with the research: Hannah Trostle and Hannah Bonestroo created the maps for the report and Christopher Mitchell contributed policy recommendations. 

Read the full report here.

A Growing Problem in Rural Counties 

The team collected more than 11 million speed tests in 2018 using the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform, which allows users to conduct tests on their actual broadband connections. When the M-Lab’s data was compared to the FCC’s Form 477 speed data, certain discrepancies became apparent. Researchers found that there are actually zero counties in Pennsylvania where at least 50% of residents have access to broadband. 

The findings also showed that not only are median speeds slower in rural counties compared to urban ones, but the discrepancy between FCC data and the measured speeds collected by M-Lab has grown significantly in rural counties over the last few years. This signifies a growing problem for policymakers hoping to bridge rural Pennsylvania’s digital divide. Without a clear and accurate analysis of connectivity, determining where and how funding should be used is difficult. 

Next Steps for Pennsylvania 

Rural communities can face serious economic impacts due to a lack of affordable, reliable, broadband access, so local leaders are motivated to improve access for residents and businesses. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is one of a number of states with laws on the books that restrict municipal broadband, so governments that are willing to invest in broadband infrastructure are often discouraged or flat out prevented from doing so. Some have nonetheless come up with creative solutions to improve local connectivity, but...

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Posted May 15, 2019 by htrostle

Cooperatives are building the next-generation networks that will support rural areas long into the future. We’ve covered this extensively at ILSR as we have gathered materials on community networks from across the country into one place. We want to share this fact sheet from National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) on how electric cooperatives are well-situated to bring high-speed Internet service to another 6.3 million households.

6.3 Million Households Have a Co-op, But No Broadband

The fact sheet features an insightful map of the areas within electric cooperative service territories that do and do not have broadband. (Note: The FCC defines broadband as a speed of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.) Many telephone and electric cooperatives can take the credit for bringing needed connectivity to their communities. For example, more than 90 electric cooperatives across the U.S. have built Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks, which offer some of the fastest Internet service in the country.

The NRECA fact sheet, however, reveals the 6.3 million households in rural electric cooperative service areas that still need high-speed Internet access. These areas are primarily in the Midwest and the South. Creating pathways for electric cooperatives to extend Internet service is increasingly a priority in a number of these states, and state legislatures are now passing laws to empower both electric and telephone cooperatives. NRECA offers more policy recommendations to continue the momentum.

You can learn more about the ways rural cooperatives are bringing better connectivity to rural areas by reading our 2017 report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era.

Check out the NRECA fact sheet, and drop us a line if you know of more resources to add to the ILSR’s Community Networks Initiative archives. 

Posted January 23, 2019 by lgonzalez

The federal government shutdown continues to drag on, but people heading up rural broadband projects are not waiting until it’s over to investigate federal funding sources. Tools like the ReConnect Opportunity Map from Cooperative Network Services (CNS) will help reduce some of the uncertainty and time required to prepare an application for this and other funding opportunities.

The GIS tool focuses on the ReConnect grant program’s criteria, which will allow users to quickly identify census blocks across the U.S. that are eligible for funding. CNS has also added special color-coding to display density of households and included information about those census blocks to help complete the applications. Examining density of households per road mile allows planners to more quickly prepare an application and establish a cost estimate. The map digs down even further to give information on housing units, which will help with refining deployment costs.

The tool also allows users to define deployment areas on the map and run reports that include census block identifiers, households, and populations per mile. Even if the specific identified area doesn’t qualify for ReConnect funding, the information can be used for other purposes, such as for a potential project that might qualify for other funding or might be of interest to an Internet access provider looking to expand in the area.

Check out this sample screenshot and the explanation below:

CNStool-screengrab_0.png

View a larger version of the screenshot.

This image of an area in Minnesota indicates census blocks that do not currently have broadband speeds over 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload. The blocks are color-coded based on the number of housing structures per road mile (darker = more housing units per road mile). Small dark spots are structures. The number of households per road mile shading allows users to quickly identify areas that may make the most sense to target since road miles generally equate to fiber construction corridor miles.

More Than ReConnect

Another feature, the ability to reveal telecom exchange boundaries, can help applicants get a picture of what other ISPs operate in the area. Whether an...

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Posted November 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Whether it’s a local government or ISP that chooses to invest in fiber optic infrastructure accurate, dependable, mapping is critical before, during, and after initial deployment. This week’s guests deliver that service through VETRO FiberMap. CEO Will Mitchell and COO Sean Myers join Christopher to discuss their mapping platform, the creative ways they use it, and their expectations for the future of fiber networks.

Will and Sean explain how in working with ISPs and local communities interested in providing better connectivity, they’ve found that they’ve been able to adjust FiberMap to deliver specialized services. FiberMap has provided the information needed to not only deploy, expand, and manage fiber networks, but it has also allowed companies and publicly owned networks to develop marketing plans and expand their future visions.

Christopher, Will, and Sean discuss GIS data, where they can access it and where it’s more challenging to obtain this data that is so important to creating a successful deployment plan. They also get into some of the many projects where local communities have used VETRO FiberMap, including some of the better-known deployments in Maine, where recent changes in the law have encouraged an increase in regional efforts.

Check out this video and learn more about VETRO FiberMap at their website.

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

Read the transcript for the show here.

This show is 33...

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Posted August 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

For years, national cable and telecom companies have complained that they work in a tough industry because “there’s too much broadband competition.” Such a subjective statement has created confusion among subscribers, policy makers, and elected officials. Many people, especially those in rural areas, have little or no choice. We wanted to dive deeper into the realities of their claim, so we decided to look at the data and map out what the large carriers offer and where they offer it. In order to share our findings with policy makers, local elected officials, and the general public, we’ve created a report that includes series of maps to illustrate our findings and our analysis, Profiles of Monopoly: Big Cable and Telecom.

Download the report.

Choice, Data, the FCC

In this analysis, we examined Form 477 Data from ISPs and submitted to the FCC. While the data paints a grim picture of where competition truly exists, those who read the report should remember that Form 477 Data breaks down information into census blocks. As a result, the Form 477 overstates broadband service availability and the size of coverage areas. With this in mind, we believe the reality on the ground is even worse than what FCC data shows. 

In the report, we shared our thoughts on the data from the FCC:

We have deep hesitations about using this data because of its many inaccuracies, but there is no other feasible option. In any event, this provides a conservative baseline for the problems in the market - though we believe the true level of competition is worse than this analysis shows, neither is tolerable in a country that claims to support a market-driven solution for supplying broadband Internet access. 

Important Findings

We broke down data from some of the largest ISPs by the numbers they serve and the areas where they serve. The report provides insight into where each...

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