October 2014 Map of the Month: Utah and the new broadband mapping data format

ChangeDetectMapOur August 2014’s Map of the Month discussed and detailed the significant transition and associated data collection changes that the National Broadband Map (NBM) is slated to undergo.

The October map of the month highlights how the change will impact Utah’s coverage as displayed on the NBM, which is used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and others to inform policy decisions.

The map at right shows just the coverage areas changed because of the differences in the two data formats. The areas in blue represent the total coverage area added by the new FCC data format across all fixed broadband technologies. No coverage area was reduced, as the coverage area only expanded as a result of being at a less fine level. The red dots represent known addressed properties in the coverage area additions resulting from the new FCC data format.

It is important to remember that the two data formats represent the exact same broadband coverage in the physical world, they just employ a different level of granularity.

For the last five years, the NBM map data has been collected and by state-led entities and sent to the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA). Beginning this Fall the data begins its transition to being collected by the FCC. Fall 2014 was, simultaneously, the last round of state-collected data, and the first instance of FCC-collected data. As the state-collected data is a more mature product, it will be displayed on the NBM through March 15, 2015.

The FCC data collection uses a different content standard for map data than the one prescribed by the NTIA for the state-based collection.

The greatest changes to coverage area expected in the FCC-based submission stem from the FCC using only census blocks to express coverage areas for all the non-mobile broadband technologies. Census blocks, defined by the US Census Bureau, don’t have a standard size or shape, although they usually follow city blocks in urban areas. In rural areas, census blocks can be quite large and irregularly shaped. The NTIA’s states-collected data format used coverage expressed along road segments for service in areas where the census blocks are greater than two square miles. The FCC maps will expand the reported coverage area for these large census blocks, provided they have broadband service in some portion of the block. This will substantially impact rural areas and areas along the edges of populated centers.

Both models will over represent actual coverage area if a provider only serves a small corner of a large census block. But the new FCC model will amplify this effect for these large census blocks and Utah has quite a few of these.

The maps below compare, by fixed broadband technology, the NTIA and the FCC data formats. On the maps the FCC format data layer is drawn below the NTIA format data in a darker color, and therefore is only visible where the NTIA data format is not. These maps show the perceived growth in coverage per technology, just from changing the rules for preparing the data.

FCC_Transition_Cable  FCC_Transition_DSL  FCC_Transition_Fiber  FCC_Transition_FixedWireless

These map layers have been loaded into an interactive map, if you wish to explore the data in more detail. This map is best viewed by turning off and on the layers using controls accessible by clicking on the “Content” tab in the upper left.

ChangebyCountyIn conclusion, the map at left aggregates an estimation of the percent coverage change in square miles, by county. Counties with the biggest jump in perceived coverage area are in dark red. These counties, in general, have areas with large census blocks that are, at least partially served by broadband which was formerly expressed just along the road segments served.