Connecting Across the Big Sky
Connecting Across the Big Sky
The State of Montana is currently implementing a state-wide broadband service availability map. The project is funded by a grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and is a component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) program. NTIA provides guidance for the project and defines the specific data to be collected, level of mapping detail, and final data formats.
See the interactive Montana State Broadband Map
The National Broadband Map:
For Broadband Mapping, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires that all wired (DSL, Cable Modem, and Fiber to the End User) broadband service be reported at the census block level (the smallest geographic unit used by the United States Census Bureau) and wireless broadband service reported as a map area or coverage. In very large census blocks (greater than 2 square miles) wired coverage is report by street segments.
To meet the objectives of this project, Montana has developed a flexible and robust set of mapping methodologies. The methods implemented depend on the level of cooperation of broadband service providers, type of broadband technology being mapped, available public data, and other factors.
Working with Providers
Provider participation in this project is critical to accurately conveying the status of broadband service and availability in Montana. The program will continue to work with providers to collect the most accurate data available.
The program typically asks a provider for the following types of data or information:
When we have not been able to get detailed information from providers of their service areas that can be mapped at the census block level we start by modeling coverage based on know infrastructure points. The mapping process uses infrastructure points (central offices, remote terminals, wireless towers and antenna locations, middle mile and backhaul), cable franchise areas, and anchor institution addresses. Coverage models are derived dynamically from this infrastructure based on geoprocessing techniques specific to each broadband technology. Examples of the techniques include developing propagation models using the Longley-Rice model for wireless coverage and using infrastructure points in conjunction with the road network to predict the area served for DSL coverage.
Putting the Information to Use
Using this information a variety of manual mapping techniques are used to compile the information into standardized mapping databases for use in the project. These techniques include hand compellation, tracing and digitizing, and extract, transform, load (ETL).
Montana has developed an extensive system for quality assurance and to quantify "validated" data for the purpose of determining what is suitable for delivery to NTIA. Using reliability and validity codes, together with completeness checks, we track which data elements are complete or still in process of refinement. Infrastructure is compared to public data, independent measurements, and telecommunications provider submittals at varying levels of geography. As more data is obtained from providers and systematically checked against infrastructure points, the reliability and validity progress from 1 (not validated or reliable) to 10 (validated and reliable) is recorded. Completeness is primarily dependent on provider input, and can be supplemented in many instances with independent measurements. The process is iterative. Our validation methods provides the ability to use general information and iteratively cross check and improve the mapping information as more accurate data is obtained.
Montana has developed a very robust operational data model to support our broadband mapping efforts. This data model allows us to store data at a high degree of granularity and to derive a variety of output data products from the mapping database. Our operational model can support any reasonable modifications to NTIA requirements over the expected 5-year life of this project.
Montana has also implemented two very innovative and aggressive independent verification methods that we use to support mapping and quality assurance. The first method is a broadband speed test application and web site. The speed test web site has resulted in over 12,000 tests for Montana. The test integrates an a standard web speed test into a full application that validates users address, segregates general public and anchor institution tests, and performs a reverse "whois" lookup to validate provider information. The speed test can be viewed at http://mtbroadband.org OR click on the speed test link.
The second independent verification method used in Montana is direct measurement field tests of wireless coverage. This was accomplished using custom smart phone programs that log geographic location, signal strength, data throughput, cell tower information, and provider. Using this tool we drove over 6000 miles in Montana and bordering states to record wireless availability. The information gathered was used to support signal propagation modeling and for verification of overall mapping accuracy.