Broadband is big business.
Valued at $385.5 billion in 2021, the global broadband market is anticipated to grow at a 9.6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), more than doubling to $875.1 billion by 2030.
Of course, that probably comes as no surprise. Thanks to the Covid-induced trends of virtual school days, online interviews, and telehealth appointments, a high-quality household internet connection has become almost as essential and expected as electricity and indoor plumbing. Yet an estimated 42 million Americans remain unconnected. As a result, Congress has made closing the digital divide a top priority, with a special focus on creating a comprehensive, high-speed broadband infrastructure that finally connects disenfranchised areas. Several federal programs are rolling out unprecedented funds to states and individual broadband providers with the goal of ensuring all Americans have access to an affordable, quality broadband connection:
- $20.4 billion per the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) is being directed to broadband providers for build-outs in rural areas, with $9.2 billion already allocated to Phase 1
- $42.45 billion per the Broadband Equity, Access, & Deployment (BEAD) program (part of the $65 billion devoted to broadband in the the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will continue to encourage build-outs where reliable internet is not available
Funding is set, service providers are lining up ready to deliver…there’s only one question:
Where exactly are these unserved and underserved areas that most need the funding and build-outs?
The broadband digital divide is essentially one giant geospatial puzzle. For over a decade, the FCC has been trying to crack the code of honing in on coverage gaps, disadvantaged areas, and high-cost installation locations. However, previous and current programs, such as the Connect America Fund (CAF) and RDOF, have exposed a major shortcoming in their efforts: vague and inaccurate data.
Not all geospatial data is equal. After discovering this the hard way, the FCC is drilling down and taking a more granular approach. And it’s set to have a huge impact on individual broadband providers.
What has previous geospatial broadband data been missing?
Historically, distribution of funds and services has been based on Form 477 reports and census block data. If even one location within the census block had access to broadband, the entire block was considered to be “served.” However, while a census block might equate to a city block in an urban area, it might cover several hundred square miles in a rural setting. This broad interpretation of data meant certain high-need areas were being completely overlooked and excluded.
Recognizing this shortfall, the 2019 Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act required the FCC to create a more granular coverage map. The FCC is currently in the process of replacing the outdated Form 477 data collection method with a new geospatial Broadband Data Collection (BDC) program. CostQuest has been tasked with compiling specific dataset layers to create a Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (BSLF) that will be the key to efficiently closing the digital divide.
How is the industry improving geospatial broadband data?
Zeroing in on unserved or underserved areas requires precise, granular geospatial data. This starts with using parcel and tax data, building footprints from aerial imagery, and addresses to identify the geographic coordinates of every individual property and structure where a broadband connection has been or could be installed, or what's known as Broadband Serviceable Locations. Overlaying different datasets related to current broadband coverage, accessibility, demand, and demographics can then give the decision-makers the data they need to efficiently allocate funds and create high impact build-out opportunities.
One of the most important dataset overlays – coverage extents – will be coming from individual broadband providers. Starting June 30, 2022, all fixed-facility broadband providers have until September 1, 2022 to submit a GIS polygon shapefile or comprehensive address list detailing exact coverage extents.
How will broadband providers be affected?
While there’s no question the new Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric will improve the efficiency and impact of broadband programs like RDOF and BEAD, how does this new GIS-based BDC affect the broadband providers? Reporting requirements have suddenly become exponentially more complex, going from broad census block data to detailed information covering every single property and structure currently served or where a connection could be installed within 10 days of a request. For both small and large providers, this presents serious challenges.
Smaller broadband providers are going to struggle to find and hire personnel with the technical qualifications to gather all of the coverage data and create the required submittals. Meanwhile, larger providers are simply facing a mountain of data and will need to find an efficient and accurate way to manage their submittals.
The FCC’s new BDC may sound intimidating, but once providers conquer these initial reporting hurdles, this granular GIS format is set to be a win all around. With the new Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, the FCC will have a clearer idea of where to direct funds, unserved and underserved locations will finally get the funding and broadband service they deserve, and providers will be the ones making it happen. With billions of dollars in federal aid available and so much growth in the future of broadband, broadband providers are set to reap tremendous benefits of the more accurate data.
With dozens of potential broadband build-outs on the horizon, broadband providers need to be on the lookout for innovative ways to maximize efficiency. When it comes to creating plans and deliverables for BDC submittals, permitting, and as-built documentation, outdated manual site survey and drafting methods could be throttling your progress.
Consider streamlining your workflow with UAS/UAV, mobile, or manned aircraft remote sensing data and AirWorks AI drafting software.
Contact AirWorks today to see how we can help.