Data State Broadband Programs Need for Effective Broadband Plans

To help states be successful in crafting their state broadband plans and utilizing their allocation of BEAD grant funding to serve the most unserved and underserved areas as possible, here are some suggestions on what data they should obtain for their broadband maps:

  • Broadband service availability & estimated units in demand: Where is broadband service likely or less likely to be available below the census block level, with what type of broadband technology, and how many serviceable locations are considered unserved and underserved with broadband?

  • Competitive landscape: How many, and what type of technology providers are within a certain proximity of a Broadband Serviceable Location?

  • Build Complexity: Relative difficulty in deploying Fiber to a serviceable location. Understanding factors such as soil, terrain, and labor conditions are key.

  • Service adoption: Understanding what to expect in terms of broadband adoption for a serviceable location, and the factors that contribute to lower adoption rates.

  • Cost to deploy: Fiber and Fixed Wireless costs to deploy and serve a location.

  • Funding eligibility: Understanding what funding programs are already deployed or going to be made eligible for a serviceable location.

*Note: All of this data is available within CostQuest’s BroadbandFabric data. Each layer of data is tied to each Broadband Serviceable Location.

Figure 0.1: Example of the listed data layers on top of a Broadband Serviceable Location

The data states obtain for their broadband maps should help answer the following questions:

  • Where and how many exact locations are served and underserved with broadband service?

  • What providers are able to provision service, and where are their existing coverage areas?

  • Are there any protected areas that require a special permit and topographical factors that could affect broadband infrastructure deployment?

  • Are there any barriers to the adoption of the deployed broadband services?

  • What will the lifetime cost of this network deployment project be?

  • Does this location qualify for other funding programs such as CAF II, RDOF, or the Capital Projects Fund?

Why do states need this information to develop effective state broadband plans and grant proposals?

Comprehensive, granular, and reliable broadband information embedded into a state-wide broadband map is crucial to inform how to invest, plan, and design a broadband network as effectively as possible.

It is important to note that “the success and quality of planning hinges upon the quality of the underlying data used to guide decisions.” Jim Stegeman, President & CEO of CostQuest Associates.

First, it is critical to categorize areas on a location-by-location basis in a state broadband map to reflect the exact geographic location of structures that may require a broadband connection (broadband serviceable locations). This granular categorization allows teams to overlay service availability and other information upon these locations so maps at the least represent the exact placement and number of unserved and underserved locations in a given area. Teams can then plan accordingly, and guide decisions based on a valid base of information that reflects the broadband needs across the state.

Second, it’s highly recommended that network and grant planning decisions are informed by data that supplies information about service availability, competition, network build-out complexity, deployment costs, funding eligibility, and broadband adoption. A collective understanding of the needs and barriers facing each location allows teams to conduct a robust analysis based on a comprehensive set of information that reflects the required investment, competitors in the area, potential build-out challenges, adoption, and affordability barriers to unserved and underserved locations. The more comprehensive and accurate the information teams obtain, the more effective their decisions will be when crafting grant proposals and network plans.

With comprehensive, granular, and reliable data providing critical information on unserved and underserved areas, teams will be able to generate network plans and grant proposals that align with the priorities and requirements of grant programs, produce a reasonable fair investment to propose and allocate, and serve as many underserved and unserved areas as possible. While also mitigating project risks by addressing factors that may affect the deployment and adoption of network services. Ensuring the state program’s models and proposals are precise, and critical decisions are informed effectively throughout the lifecycle of BEAD and other federal funding programs.

Here’s an example of data in a broadband map that could mislead decision-making:

In Figure 0.2, we see a GIS application that displays locations on a broadband map based on an address. This address dataset (red dots) mark locations along road segments, but the actual serviceable structures (green dots – structures where a broadband connection can be installed) are approximately 100 meters away from where the address-based dataset shows where that location is. 

Coordinate-level location precision vs. address data location precision.
Figure 0.2: Example of where address-based geocoded locations (in red) said the location’s structure was compared to structures (in green) identified using geographic coordinates.

Using address-based geocoding instead of identifying serviceable structures is one way to potentially mislead decision-making in your broadband planning, including project timelines and estimated costs. Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) grant applications and funding bids are more likely to be successful when states obtain reliable information about the overall conditions and broadband needs of the state.

Final thoughts

The quality of the specific datasets that a State Broadband Program uses to create its state broadband plans plays an important role in the success of its network plans and proposals for BEAD and other grant programs. Comprehensive, granular, and reliable broadband data provides state officials with information to conduct a robust analysis of the locations needing broadband service throughout their state, and ensure decisions made throughout planning are based on the most accurate information available.

Have any questions about what information can best support your broadband expansion project?

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