States Could Face Legal Jeopardy From Challenging the Fabric: Chief Data Officer of Montana

WASHINGTON, October 26, 2022 – The State of Montana could be in violation of contractual obligations to a private partner if it fully participates in the Federal Communications Commission’s fabric-challenge process, Adam Carpenter, chief data officer of the Montana Department of Administration, said Wednesday.

Carpenter, speaking on a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel, explained that some of the data Montana needs for challenges to the national broadband fabric is leased from a private partner. State–partner contractual obligations limit Montana’s ability to share that data with other commercial enterprises, Carpenter said.

However, CostQuest Associates, the FCC vendor which created and owns the initial version of the fabric, may lease the FCC-owned data submitted in the challenge process for use in its own commercial products, which means that some data from states’ private partners could end up in a competitor’s products.

“If…you’re leasing that data from a private entity, you can’t just hand it over to another private entity,” Carpenter said. “And that’s put us in a position where we’re either not going to challenge the FCC map, we’re going to violate our contract and we get sued, or we’re going to work some deal where we partially challenge the FCC map where it favors us.”

According to Carpenter, since many other states have leased mapping data from private partners as Montana did, this legal tension will likely limit state’s ability to submit fabric challenges and consequently lead to sub-par national mapping data.

Fabric-type data is the “core [intellectual property]” for the states’ mapping partners, Carpenter told Broadband Breakfast after the panel.

The fabric is a dataset of all “broadband serviceable locations” in America, and it will be the foundation upon which broadband coverage data is laid to create the FCC’s national broadband map. Based on this map, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will apportion $42.5 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program among the states for broadband deployment and other related projects.

The FCC did not respond to Broadband Breakfast’s request for comment.

Panel criticizes NTIA intention to spend big on CostQuest

The panel criticized the NTIA’s stated intention to obtain the fabric and related products for an estimated $49.9 million, which would be in addition to the original CostQuest–FCC contract for the fabric’s creation, tagged at $44.9 million.

“I still…have no clue what it is NTIA is buying for $50 million,” said Sascha Meinrath, Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University and director of X-Lab.

“There’s no justifying the $50 million problem,” Carpenter said. “It’s clearly a price that was not derived from the value of the product being sold…that’s usually called gouging.”

The NTIA did not respond to Broadband Breakfast’s request for comment.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Challenging the Broadband Fabric

Discontent is rising about the Federal Communications Commission’s use of the so-called “broadband fabric” to measure the availability of broadband on an address-by-address basis. Many are concerned that the FCC is dismissing or minimizing the ability of consumers to bring speed test challenges to fabric data. Additionally, the private nature of the fabric is a concern to those who say publicly-available information is needed for building out broadband. What are the alternatives to the fabric, and how might the fabric be challenged at the FCC, the NTIA, state broadband offices, or in court?

Panelists:

  • Sascha Meinrath, Director, X-Lab and Palmer Chair in Telecommunications, Penn State University
  • Michael Kleeman, Professor, George Mason University
  • Scott D. Woods, Vice President for Community Engagement & Strategic Partnerships, Ready.net
  • Adam Carpenter, Chief Data Officer, Montana Department of Administration
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

  • NTIA Plans to Award $50 Million Contract to CostQuest, but Considers Competitive Procurement, Broadband Breakfast, October 24, 2022
  • Communities Must Be Accurate in Fabric-Challenge Submissions, says Mapping Non-profit, Broadband Breakfast, October 21, 2022
  • After Controversial Panel on Mapping, FCC Confirms No Charges for Access to Fabric, Broadband Breakfast, October 13, 2022
  • FCC’s Fabric Challenge Process Important Part of Getting Map Right, Agency Says, Broadband Breakfast, September 8, 2022
  • Montana Mapping Official: Treasury Deadline for ARPA Fund Disbursement Probably Too Soon, Broadband Breakfast, April 13, 2022

Sascha Meinrath is the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University and director of X-Lab, an innovative think tank focusing on the intersection of vanguard technologies and public policy. Prior to creating the X-Lab, Meinrath was vice president of the New America Foundation, where he founded the Open Technology Institute in 2008 and built it into one of the largest public interest tech policy organizations in Washington, D.C. He also founded the Commotion Wireless Project, which works around the globe to strengthen communities by providing tools to build their own local communications infrastructures, and co-founded Measurement Lab, a global online platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools that empower the public and key decision-makers with useful information about broadband connectivity.

Michael Kleeman is a serial CTO and has worked in networks across five continents and deployed fiber, long haul, local, middle mile and even submarine systems, since the mid 1980s. Kleeman has a deep understanding of network economics, both capital and operating, across a wide array of local, long distance and international geographies utilizing current and emerging technologies for transmission and network deployment. He is a professor of practice at George Mason University.

Scott D. Woods is the Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships for Ready.net, where he facilitates and develops key public-private partnerships formed via the Broadband.Money platform. He also focuses on providing a platform for local communities to express their needs for broadband access and digital equity investments, as well as developing industry partnerships, and fostering alliances with key stakeholders to advance and support community-based broadband education and advocacy initiatives.

With a background software engineering and data analysis, Adam Carpenter discovered Machine Learning (AI) when it was still in its infancy and found his passion. Impressed by the transformational power of AI early on, it quickly became clear that it is the last step in a long data maturity journey. Adam has since spent a career helping organizations through that journey so they can better use their data to serve their customers. After receiving the call to public service, Adam is now facilitating this journey for the state of Montana through this same journey.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.

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