GIS Data & Tools for Closing Digital Divide – WISPAMERICA 2024 Recap

By: Hailey Farrow, Marketing Manager on behalf of CostQuest Associates

Last week, at WISPAMERICA, numerous wireless and hybrid providers convened in Oklahoma City to exchange insights regarding broadband deployment funding opportunities, such as NTIA’s BEAD. Attendees shared deployment practices, GIS data and tools, ways to expand and protect service areas, and more to support organizations as they look to close the Digital Divide.

As providers look to assess potential areas to bid on for BEAD and other grants, there were many discussions around the advantages of GIS tools and various data layers to analyze customer needs, costs to serve, ROI, regulatory landscape, and challenges for serving unserved and underserved markets.

Key GIS data and tools for broadband opportunity analysis

DATA:

  • Service Availability & Competition – identifying the unserved and underserved markets, and what carriers and technologies may exist in or around those areas. 

  • Federally Funded Areas – which areas have already been awarded under a federal program such as RDOF, ReConnect, CAF II, Enhanced ACAM, etc.  

  • Demographics – assessing poverty levels and potential consumer adoption barriers. 

  • Cost to Serve – fiber network deployment costs and fixed wireless costs. Even though BEAD is geared towards fiber deployments to invest in future-proof reliable high-speed technology, there are still opportunities to leverage fixed wireless to service those locations that are considered high-cost by fiber deployments. From the state program’s perspective, some have mentioned they do believe several areas throughout their state fall within that extremely high-cost category, and fixed wireless will make more sense to service those areas to help achieve the goal of universal service coverage. Most state programs will wait to see the bids come in to determine what their extremely high-cost threshold will be. Providers looking to apply for BEAD, and using a fixed wireless or hybrid approach, can start assessing the following: 
    • Where are the high-cost fiber areas?
    • At what high-cost point should fixed wireless or hybrid deployments be considered to service the state-determined project area(s)? 

GIS TOOLS:

  • For point-level analysis – ArcGIS, QGIS, Maptitude, etc.  

Other key event insights

  • More fixed wireless providers are investing in fiber network infrastructure.
  • They’re leveraging state and federal subsidies to do so.
  • Lots of discussions on the use of Millimeter Wave technology to extend gigabit speeds in urban, suburban, and rural locations. 

  • To lower construction costs, many providers are working on hiring and training internal engineering and operations teams.

It’s clear there are big opportunities in broadband right now, and if you’ve read till the end of this post, it’s likely you’re already in the mix of it all.

WISPAMERICA was an insightful event, to say the least. Till next time.  

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