USTelecom this afternoon announced that a coalition of ISPs and industry associations will soon begin a two-state pilot program involving crowdsourcing and other techniques to finally settle the broadband mapping problem. While some say the current census block-based FCC Form 477 mapping process has adequately measured broadband service availability in urban/suburban areas, there is wide agreement that the process has failed to measure rural America with any accuracy.
“Our nation lacks a comprehensive connectivity map that indicates where high-speed broadband service is available and, most important in our work, where it is not. This knowledge gap has long frustrated all stakeholders,” said USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter (pictured left) during a webcast announcing the project. “Can we do so? Absolutely. Modern data analytics offer us an opportunity to deliver a much more detailed and cohesive view of where we stand.”
“By testing out new ideas on the ground, it is my hope that this pilot and similar initiatives will give the Commission and other stakeholders useful information to consider as we move ahead,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (pictured right), who was a guest speaker on the webcast. “From my perspective, this is the calling of our time in having a more accurate set of data to build upon.”
Along with USTelecom, the “Broadband Mapping Initiative” includes AT&T, CenturyLink, Consolidated, Frontier, ITTA – The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers, Riverstreet, TDS, Verizon, Windstream, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). The goal of the four-to-six-month project is to develop a database of broadband availability in the states of Missouri and Virginia. Ultimately, the group hopes the process will cover the entire country with ongoing, systematic updates.
Some details of the initiative seem similar to the process Jannine Miller, advisor to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, described last week during the NRECA Annual Meeting in Orlando. When making awards for USDA’s ReConnect program, the agency no longer plans to rely on Form 477 data, but to use other techniques together with Form 477 data. Like the ReConnect plan, the initiative also plans to develop a process for consumers to challenge inaccuracies in the broadband map.
“The problem is that when you get into rural areas, a census block can be miles in length and width. We need a way to get beyond addresses, because in rural areas, addresses don’t give you a broadband serviceable location,” said Frank Simone, AT&T’s VP, Federal Regulatory during the webcast. “The way we’re going to do that is through improved longitude and latitude data to the structure where we’re going to build out.”
The initiative also plans to keep better track of where rural internet providers are overbuilding existing served areas. “When you have finite [public] resources to deploy for getting American online, you don’t want to use them to build an area that’s already been built,” said Diana Eisner, director of Federal Regulatory Frontier Communications.