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Better Broadband Maps Have Arrived

Better Broadband Maps Have Arrived

The implementation of BEAD and other federal broadband funding programs required a much better paradigm for identifying unserved and underserved locations than the Federal Communications Commission’s outdated census tract-based maps. There was critical need to create a better, more nuanced fabric that provides greater and richer details.

On this week’s Fiber for Breakfast, Jim Stegeman, CEO of CostQuest Associates noted, “The Broadband Data Act came out in 2020. [It] required the creation of a common data set of all locations in the U.S. where fixed broadband internet access service can be installed or currently where it isn’t installed. That act outlined the collection of the broadband coverage data at the location level, which is what the FCC takes care of. They collect that from the ISPs that outline the basics for the fabric, which is what we provide. [The] fabric was required to contain the geocoding information on each location in the country. It serves as the foundation not only for the FCC’s fabric but for all federal broadband programs.”

Creating more detailed maps also produced the challenge process enabling states to amend and update the data to make sure it is as accurate as possible for all the programs that rely on broadband coverage information. CostQuest pushes out new fabric releases every six months, providing updated information based on changes in identified served and unserved locations, as well as drops of other locations based on the revised data.

The third version of the fabric currently identifies 7.2 million unserved locations in the United States, with the fourth version just released in December and version five currently in progress.

“It will be important for states running BEAD programs to understand this because they’ll have to incorporate the version three coverage into their efforts to understand which locations need to be served,” said Stegeman. “That fabric is based on close to billions of points. We apply statistics, statistical scoring, AI, crowd sourcing, and other techniques to create what we believe is the most accurate fabric data set available. It’s based on parcel, satellite imagery, commercial footprints, tax attributes, address data sets, and other information.”

Each release of the fabric improves the quality of product, between the challenge process and CostQuest’s internal self-challenge process to identify and correct errors in the assembly and processing of data. Use of CostQuest data can be confusing, admits Stegeman, as some usage is covered by FCC license agreement for certain FCC programs, but use for Treasury or BEAD programs requires a separate NTIA license. “If you want to work with the FCC program and BEAD program [data], you need both licenses,” said Stegeman. “State sponsored programs not using federal fundings need a commercial license.”

To learn more about the CostQuest broadband fabric data and what’s available, listen to the latest Fiber For Breakfast.