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The System Critical in the Expansion of Broadband Infrastructure Across the Nation

Bowling Green, KY (March 11, 2019) - As the globe gets increasingly connected with broadband technology and more and more people realize the benefits that come with it, it seems apt to detail a key system helping to bring about that expansion.  It’s a system that works behind-the-scenes in many ways to drive decisions across essentially every industry where a geospatial, or location-based, component is present.

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This is a Geographic Information System, often simply referred to as GIS. It is a combination of hardware, software, data, and people (users), and with those in place, cartography, statistical analysis, and database management are integral elements of it.   Various statistical and mapping products are the outputs of the system modeling, which ultimately provides geospatial intelligence to decision and policy makers.

However, it is often understated on the amount of significant work that is necessary prior to even being able to provide that intelligence.  Such work often includes data research, acquisition, review, formatting, conversion, and preprocessing, along with methodology development/design and testing for analyses.  In the later stages, map design principles are incorporated for either static or dynamic web mapping where each map is tailored for each specific project and intended use.  These tasks in a GIS are not all encompassing, but they are critical in providing appropriate and sound location intelligence.

In terms of broadband expansion and reducing the digital divide, GIS has been a vital technology across local, state, and federal projects over the years.  Prominent examples include maps and statistics of where broadband is in terms of service, speeds, platforms, and provider density, as well as where it is not, or where it is inadequate, and understanding the particulars of these locations.  The latter is often through rural/urban population and household density representations, and crowdsourced public feedback to highlight issues and demand for service.

The following are some examples of broadband projects by various organizations and agencies where GIS has been and is critical to success:

  • Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development - Since 2014, the office has been providing state resourced funding grants to reduce the number of underserved and unserved households across the state to greatly increase provider investment and accessibility. Funding has totaled over $85 million over 4 years across a number of projects (map of projects). Connected Nation has worked closely with the office in regards to the GIS tasks and other aspects of the project, including provider outreach and grant verification field work.

  • Michigan Public Service Commission ­- In partnership with Connect Michigan, the Commission has conducted statewide broadband planning, research, assessments, and mapping efforts since 2009. In addition, the State of Michigan recently unveiled a plan to bring broadband access into unserved areas as discussed in a prior blog.  Since the release of this broadband roadmap last August, and as a result of its recommendations, a broadband grant program totaling $20 million was announced late last year.  GIS will be vital in identifying areas most in need of broadband expansion in order to get individuals connected and out of the Digital Divide.

  • Connected - Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program has actively engaged more than 150 communities across seven states drilling down to the regional and local level to facilitate technology planning. GIS at this level is just as important for analyzing and visualizing broadband access, adoption, and use to help facilitate, advise, and advocate proven solutions. One such assessment was conducted in Spartanburg County, South Carolina as described in depth here.  An example of a simple Connected broadband survey result map is protrayed above.

  • FCC Mobility Fund Phase II Challenges – This fund is making $4.53 billion in subsidies available over 10 years to mobile broadband service

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    providers to build out 4G LTE. The published FCC map of eligible areas was created with GIS technology, and the areas were all subject to challenges by approved entities.  Kansas in particular, with support from Connected Nation’s GIS and engineering teams, challenged a number of areas in late 2018 to maximize potential funding since the FCC map initially indicated very few areas eligible for support. CN conducted extensive drive-testing across the state as outlined in the above article and shown in the map to the right.

Finally, it is worth noting that with any project—including those listed above—GIS is only as useful as the data one is working with. This data could come from surveying, remote sensing, or computer-aided design products to name a few sources common in telecommunications.  The GIS user must weigh the pros and cons of each dataset for its usefulness in each spatial problem to derive meaningful data and subsequently maps and data visualizations.  Policy and decision-makers are relying upon them and so are the individuals in the Digital Divide.

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About the Author: Brian Dudek is the Senior GIS Analyst for Connected Nation. Brian uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping technology to create static and dynamic, interactive maps, through the analysis of demographic, economic, and broadband data.