In February 2022, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission set new guidance for delivering information regarding the availability of broadband internet services throughout the United States. Prior to this date, broadband service providers were required to submit a biannual report through Form 477, a Census Block-level analysis of coverage. While not formally retiring Form 477 and announcing a “sunset” date, providers will continue to use the existing form for at least the next reporting cycle. While there was a protest against the adoption of a Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (BSLF) for the new Broadband Data Collection (BDC/DODC) process, the FCC “will begin to accept broadband availability data filed pursuant to the Commission’s new BDC rules and procedures,” according to a public notice issued by the Commission.
Why the change?
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has found that broadband coverage is often overstated, and the level of accuracy afforded at the Census Block level is simply inadequate for a complete assessment of coverage. According to the GAO:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was tasked in the 2020 Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (Broadband DATA Act) to create a location fabric, which is a dataset of all locations or structures in the U.S. that could be served by broadband, over which broadband deployment data can be overlaid. The purpose of this data collection effort is to improve the granularity and precision of FCC’s broadband deployment mapping, which will allow FCC to more precisely assess where Americans still lack access to broadband.
What’s needed in the “fabric”?
The GAO determined that certain geospatial data is necessary for a more comprehensive assessment of coverage. The fabric is defined by the FCC as “a common dataset of all locations in the United States where fixed broadband internet access service can be installed.” There are four primary attributes that would be required:
- Country parcel data to identify property boundaries
- County tax data for property types (agriculture, residential, commercial)
- Building footprints and building location and shape to verify its use
- Addresses with geocoordinates (i.e., a broadband serviceable location)
The FCC has awarded a contract for the fabric to CostQuest, a Cincinnati-based company, for the BSLF in March 2022 (the GAO has since dismissed the subsequent protest of the award) and the data should be deliverable later in 2022. The GAO acknowledged, however, that stakeholders, primarily Internet service providers, believe that “there is no one source of location data that will be sufficient for the FCC and its contract data company to develop a precise location fabric; therefore, it is necessary to integrate [the] four main types of data to have a complete location fabric,” as those noted above.
Who is required to make reports to the FCC?
The following types of providers of broadband services are required to report coverage:
- Mobile broadband providers — They are required to report coverage in OGC-compliant formats per technology as well as the count of customers by technology per state and identify properties as either business or residential. Providers must submit propagation maps and propagation model details for each network technology and for both outdoor stationary and in-vehicle mobile network coverage.
- Voice broadband (VoIP) providers — They are required to report coverage in OGC-compliant formats and identify business or residential properties, and whether services are direct to customers or via Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO).
- Wireless or fixed wireless — They are required to provide a list of census blocks with coverage and the fastest speeds available by Census Block, as well as a customer count by Census Tract (using 2020 Census data). Providers must submit propagation maps and propagation model details for each network technology and for both outdoor stationary and in-vehicle mobile network coverage. In addition, mobile wireless broadband service providers must also submit signal strength heat map data.
- Fixed Wireline — must submit either polygon shapefiles or a list of locations that constitute the service area of the provider.
Any 2-D maps must be reported in Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) compliant format. In addition, the FCC requires that:
The Form 477 subscribership data that filers must submit in the BDC system is nearly identical to the data that must be submitted in the Form 477 filing interface. The only difference is that the list of technology codes for fixed broadband subscription data has been updated for BDC filings to match the list of technology codes associated with the BDC fixed broadband availability data. The fields and formatting requirements are identical the those in the FCC Form 477 filing interface.
Where can service providers turn to for support?
These changes by the FCC come with new requirements for data integration and may require data processing at scale because of the use of an address fabric that will contain millions of address locations. In addition, the use of propagation models to determine the signal strength at the address level will require the integration of raster and vector data and the subsequent reporting of data in an OGC-compliant format. Lastly, the possibility of integrating multiple sources of data at varying levels of geographic resolution will require geospatial expertise to meet the specifications of the FCC.
Here, Korem offers a full suite of data integration services, and our staff has consistently provided our telecommunication clients with services that exceed expectations. Specifically, Korem supports service providers to adapt to the new FCC requirements and to help their team with technology and expertise to efficiently automate the process. This often includes developing the FCC report as well as other reports based on the network coverage and population coverage that are required to be provided to the FCC. Korem strives to automate each process by leveraging cloud-native technology that scales based on the existing needs of the client.