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Redefining the Colorado Broadband Map

posted Jul 31, 2014, 10:05 AM by Megan Chadwick Gernert - OIT   [ updated Jul 31, 2014, 10:05 AM ]

In the last legislative session, the Colorado General Assembly and the Governor approved funding to continue broadband mapping in the State. This will sustain the broadband mapping staff currently in place, and it presents an opportunity for OIT and the State of Colorado to create a geographic database of broadband service that responds to the State’s particular needs and is not defined by standards from a federal funding agency. OIT is now involved in the process of defining this new Colorado-centric data development process.

In defining this new database and data collection process, OIT is addressing issues that have been identified  with the current map as well as focusing on how the new database may be used and fit with other broadband planning and policy efforts. Some of the issues with the current map include reliance on census block geography, using maximum advertised speeds as a representation of available broadband service, lack of other relevant information such as cost and capacity, and ineffective use of local knowledge in the data development process, among others. OIT is now considering options to overcome these issues, and we have held two meetings with stakeholders to obtain feedback on how a new process can be more accurate and useful.

To deal with the fact that census blocks can be very large in rural areas, OIT is considering using the Public Land Survey System as the basic geography for developing the data. The advantage of this scheme is that it is a standard way of dividing the state, and it is flexible in that it presents a way of subdividing areas several times to identify more precise area units that are more homogeneous. 

We are still planning to base the database of broadband service on data obtained from broadband service providers. The ideal data to receive from providers is a list of customer addresses (without any name information) and the service to which they subscribe. This will allow for a much more precise representation of service and will allow us to see how service is distributed within an area and whether that area should be further subdivided. This highly detailed data will not be distributed publicly. Only the aggregated, derivative data will be made public. We also plan to solicit feedback in a structured manner from Local Technology Planning Teams (LTPTs) or the regional planning efforts to verify the data. In this way, local experience with subscribing to broadband service or attempting to obtain service will improve the accuracy of the service reported.

In addition to service data from providers, OIT is defining a data layer that indicates the confidence that we have in the data. If we receive high quality data (i.e., addresses) from broadband service providers, we will indicate high confidence in the data in these areas. If we receive lower quality data, for example service according to census blocks or less accurate than that, generalized drawings of service, we will indicate lower confidence in these areas. This layer will represent the areas where we need more information to develop a reliable representation of service. As we validate the data with speed tests or local feedback or other sources, we will increase our confidence in the data, and this confidence layer will reflect these improvements.

During the stakeholder meetings held on July 10th and 11th, many of the participants acknowledged the complexity of developing an accurate, useful database. There were many comments on the data needs and possible approaches to collecting the data. Several participants discussed the need for a multi-layered data set that contains a variety of information. The discussion with local and regional stakeholders also identified information about Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs) as vitally important and perhaps a starting point for the data collection and mapping. Other information could then be phased in. This phasing can focus on unserved areas first. There was a strong desire from the participants to see reports of the information collected about CAIs and from OIT’s speed tests and future surveys. OIT will proactively share this information with the LTPTs and regional plan efforts in the future. This will be part of the partnering with LTPTs to obtain the highest quality data, perhaps in focused locations. OIT is also proposing holding intensive feedback sessions with the LTPTs to solicit their corrections to the data.

Our timeline for moving ahead with the new map process is: 

Stakeholder input collection June - July 2014
Preliminary proposal for mapping process August 2014
Response to preliminary proposal August 2014
Final mapping process proposal September 2014
Pilot test mapping process October 2014
Amendments to pilot process November 2014
Finalize process & start new data collection January 2015
First draft of new broadband map February 2015

OIT has a survey to gather input on the future data collection process at:  http://coloradobroadband.state.co.us/share/broadband-map-survey

Please enter your feedback at that survey or email suggestions to oit_broadband@state.co.us.