A state expert on broadband is urging residents to review newly published online broadband internet service maps and report any inaccuracies as part of a crowdsourcing initiative that could help steer millions of dollars in federal funding to Hawaii.

The Federal Communications Commission on Nov. 18 announced it had published the maps detailing where broadband service is adequate in Hawaii and where it is substandard or unavailable, down to individual street addresses. The maps detail who offers service at given locations, as well as what upload and download speeds are available.

Those maps will help the federal government decide where service is substandard, and where it should direct many millions of federal dollars under the national Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.

But service providers including Hawaiian Telcom and Charter Communications have already identified missing data and other problems with the maps, and it is likely there are other errors or flaws that have not yet been spotted. Charter does business in Hawaii as Spectrum, and Hawaiian Telcom is identified on the maps as its parent company, Cincinnati Bell Inc.

Burt Lum, broadband strategy officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the state is certain to get at least $100 million in formula funding to improve and expand local broadband service under the BEAD program, but Hawaii may be able to receive as much as $250 million if it can demonstrate more money is needed.

Burt Lum, broadband strategy officer for the state, briefs members of the Broadband Hui on the new maps published by the Federal Communications Commission. The maps may be key to getting additional federal funding to expand the reach of broadband in Hawaii.
Burt Lum, broadband strategy officer for the state, briefs members of the Broadband Hui on the new maps published by the Federal Communications Commission. The maps may be key to getting additional federal funding to expand the reach of broadband in Hawaii. Civil Beat screenshot

“This map is going to determine how much money Hawaii gets,” he said, and they will also identify specific areas of the state where that money should be applied to install fiber to improve the local broadband infrastructure.

The final amount Hawaii will receive will be based on a formula used by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the BEAD grant program. The state will submit a plan next year detailing how it proposes to use the federal money.

Priority sites for the funding will be areas that are unserved or underserved. The NTIA defines as “unserved” any location that has no service, or has poor service with speeds of less than 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Locations that have service of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload or less are considered “underserved.”

Find Hawaii’s maps here.

Broadband providers such as Hawaiian Telcom and Charter traditionally have considered detailed data on exactly what levels of service are available in particular neighborhoods as proprietary information. But the new public maps will help document exactly which areas need government support to improve service, and help make a stronger case for that public assistance.

The accuracy of the maps is critical because if the maps show an area has a high level of service already available, that area is unlikely to qualify for additional support from the BEAD program.

Lum told members of an informal Hawaii group known as the Broadband Hui on Wednesday that “we want to try to get an idea from everybody out in the community, how accurate is this map, and how can we provide feedback?”

“It’s going to be a big effort, and it’s not going to get done unless you all help us to achieve this analysis,” he told the hui.

Lum is asking the general public to participate as well, and has developed a web page to explain the maps and their importance. That page also includes a form participants can fill out to report errors and omissions, including missing addresses and incorrect information, on the maps. “We want this to go far and wide,” he said.

Lum said he plans to sort through the crowdsourced feedback he gathers on his web site, and organize it for presentation to the counties. The counties will then have an opportunity to file challenges to the maps where the data is inaccurate, and Lum believes the FCC may be more responsive to challenges filed by the counties than from individuals.

Rebecca Lieberman, director of state government affairs for Charter in Honolulu, said that company is trying to understand why some data it provided to federal officials detailing where it provides service is not showing up on the maps.

“We want this to go far and wide.” — Burt Lum, state broadband strategy officer

“We’re struggling with the map right now,” Lieberman told the Broadband Hui. “We realized this week that a somewhat significant portion of the data that we’ve uploaded — particularly for Oahu — is not appearing on the map.”

In some cases, homes are receiving service, but the maps incorrectly say they are not, Lieberman said.

Jeannine Souki, senior manager of government and regulatory affairs at Hawaiian Telcom, said that company is having similar issues with the maps, including areas that show up as unserved on the maps, but actually have service available.

She said the maps available today are a “first brush,” and there were reports of “bugs” in the system that caused areas that have service to show up as unserved.

She said the company is working with the FCC to try to resolve those issues, but “in looking at the sum of the data that was available for fiber, it looks like there is a big chunk missing from Hawaii because the number looks rather low.” She said there is a process in place with FCC for the utility to make corrections.

Gwen Jacobs, the University of Hawaii’s director of cyberinfrastructure for Information Technology Services and a participant in the hui, told the group Wednesday that “it’s really critical to get this right, and also to figure out what’s the best way to participate in the challenge process.”

“Whatever additional information we can bring to the table that is beyond what the FCC has provided is going to determine how much funding we get,” she said. Souki said her understanding is the FCC is relying on people or companies to challenge the maps.

The FCC plans to make several updates of the maps by the end of June to incorporate new data, including accepted challenges to the maps, said Susan Walters, regional director of BEAD for NTIA. The NTIA is encouraging entities and individuals to submit their challenges by Jan. 13 to give the FCC time to process them.

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