Data Challenges for Equitable Broadband Access In Fresno, CA and Beyond - Episode 592 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast

In this podcast episode, Christopher engages in a conversation with Philip Neufeld, the Executive Officer for Information Technology at the Fresno Unified School District. They delve into the crucial role of data in addressing broadband connectivity challenges in low-income neighborhoods, stressing the need for accurate and comprehensive data to guide policy decisions and investment strategies.

Philip's proactive data collection efforts in Fresno, particularly through speed tests on school devices, offer valuable insights into connectivity issues. He emphasizes the importance of using this data to advocate for solutions that bridge the digital divide.

The episode concludes by exploring the limitations of current mapping methods and the urgent need for more accurate data to drive effective and targeted solutions. Highlighting a collaborative approach, they underscore the significance of public-private partnerships and community coalitions in advocating for equitable broadband access in low-income neighborhoods.

This show is 44 minutes long and can be played on this page or using the podcast app of your choice with this feed.

Transcript below.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show: please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or see other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.


Philip Neufeld (00:07):
I've worked in healthcare, I've worked in ag, I've worked in water. The veracity and utility of data in any of those fields has been assumed for years better ways to collect the data, to triangulate, to get to what's real as sort of like a basic in any industry when it comes to the broadband industry. I've learned over the last couple of years the carriers get to say what they want [00:00:30] to say about a neighborhood and they're allowed to get away with that.

Christopher Mitchell (00:33):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcasts. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local. I'm in St. Paul, Minnesota this morning speaking with Philip Neufeld, who is the executive officer for information Technology at the Fresno Unified School District. Welcome to the show.

Philip Neufeld (00:55):
Well honored to be here, Chris, and so appreciative of what you do across the states.

Christopher Mitchell (01:00):
[00:01:00] Well, I'm really excited to dig into all of the stuff that you are doing. There's one thing in particular that I felt like I thought was a hypothetical, but knowing that you've been doing it, the speed test and all the different school devices that you've deployed, that's awesome to develop a real data set. So we'll get to that eventually. We've got a long way to go. We'll talk perhaps a little bit about this, but you are a man of multiple talents. You've had private [00:01:30] sector experience, you have a lot of educational experience. You have a doctor in education, an MBA, and you're a project management professional. Makes you a very dangerous person, I think for some folks,

Philip Neufeld (01:44):
Whereas my wife says, it keeps me from getting bored.

Christopher Mitchell (01:47):
Yeah, I can imagine. The place I would like to start though is if we paint a little bit of a picture of what happened during the pandemic because you and I [00:02:00] met in part because of a Department of Education study that was done in which we highlighted innovative school districts. And my understanding is to simplify things that the pandemic hits. There's a lot of students in Fresno that do not have home Internet access, and one of the first things we did was gave them the hotspots for mobile wireless network so they could have local Wi-Fi networks that were powered by the LTE connections. And that didn't [00:02:30] work very well for some it worked perhaps, but for most it didn't really solve the problem. And so let's just start there for a second and tell us what was happening around then.

Philip Neufeld (02:40):
I was responsible for moving from not just what we had done in our personalized learning initiative that have code led since 2016, which is around the classroom, but virtual schooling and then remote learning. And we kept running into these things, our C two and I would call the neighborhood network problem, and it was pervasive. Students couldn't get online [00:03:00] and first of all, just huge call out to the resilience of teachers and students in that moment. But I started trying to get ahead and what is this deep problem? Because I've been involved in Internet for business in my past lives, but really the pandemic pulled a blinders off her eyes around one that there weren't as many cell towers. The equipment was older, and the signals, I literally took people, you've got T-Mobile phone out, you've got an at t phone, let's walk this neighborhood. And what happened to the bars? And then [00:03:30] for whatever reason, couldn't get a handle on it. The speeds of Comcast and Comcast is really our only monopoly in a duopoly market where at t is exiting, given that they're trying to get out of the copper business. That's their only choice, but it wasn't working like it was supposed to. And despite emergency connectivity funds, students weren't getting connected. And I think the other thing that really woke us up was starting to pay more attention to the regulatory environment at a state and federal level, what it meant [00:04:00] to neighborhoods.

Christopher Mitchell (04:01):
And it's worth noting, I think for people who aren't familiar, that Fresno may not be considered a large California city, but it is a large city for the United States of America, which is a funny thing to say, but many, what's the metro, the size of it?

Philip Neufeld (04:16):
It's about seven 50,000 metropolitan area in a county that's quite large, 6,000 square acres and a million population there. So it's both a mix of rural and urban in the county, but [00:04:30] it's a reasonable size urban area. And to your point, it's got a pretty significant disparity in terms of wealth. 89% of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, which gives you a sense of the level of low income neighborhoods, but also these students, when you give them the right conditions for modern learning thrive, the challenges that due to the ability of affordability, availability, and I'll call it performance, that's something we always forget about when we talk [00:05:00] about the triangle. It's a quadrangle. It's a rectangle, right? There's how does this stuff actually work in these low income neighborhoods? And we're really holding students back, we're holding their families back from connecting to healthcare, jobs, entrepreneurship services that exist. And that's the big challenge.

Christopher Mitchell (05:19):
Okay, so you are in a situation where you're realizing more and more the depth of the problem that although there is wireless, mobile, wireless connectivity throughout Fresno [00:05:30] and Comcast is more or less omnipresent, although there's some exceptions that there's a lot of students that aren't able to get online. So how do you approach that?

Philip Neufeld (05:41):
And I actually wrote a piece for our own internal leadership and to start some of the thinking across some of the informal coalitions that were starting to form in our region. And it talked about the multiple layers of this problem and the multiple dimensions of what solutions needed to look [00:06:00] like. One was around how do we start advocating with the CPU California Public Utility Commission so that we have regulatory enforcement for equity in every neighborhood to actually get the same quality of service. Look, I'm in an area within metropolitan downtown Fresno, and because our neighborhood's more affluent, I get $60 a month for a 500 meg connection, phenomenal a block from me. Folks are paying [00:06:30] $50 a month for a 50 50 meg connection, and it only gives 'em 10 megabits per second. So that was one dimension is the regulatory, the advocacy work. The other is, okay, what can we do to change the reality on the ground and using existing funding streams, existing programs like E-Rate?

And that's where he said, okay, and so I'll back up and I'll come back to that in a second, but how do we do things like LTE [00:07:00] that are quick, that don't skip generations of students, mesh Wi-Fi, other communities have done really well, so how do we do some things like that? We also were looking to see how do we expand our Wi-Fi footprint on our campuses in gyms, on buses? We did school buses back around 2016 our first go at that, but by the way, we tried to, during the pandemic park, those buses and neighborhoods thinking that that was going to work and then do a Wi-Fi signal out of the bus [00:07:30] because that actually can work, except they can't get a good cellular signal in those neighborhoods so that there's

Christopher Mitchell (07:35):
No place to park the bus where it could

Philip Neufeld (07:37):
Get a good signal. But I had started back in 2015 working with folks, I'll give credit to Kim friends and some folks at Houston, ISD. How do we get beyond our problem where we get an Internet break out of school fiber cut or whatever it might be, [00:08:00] and how do we stop losing instructional days for students who need more instructional days, not less? How do we get better than Palo Alto performance because our students from an equity standpoint don't need the same, they need better so that they get the chance to rise to their possibilities. And so back in 2015, I started working on something called dark least fiber. Not a good way to advertise. So yeah, least fiber. And it was a battle with at t. [00:08:30] They did not want to lose the money they left that would be on the table if they actually provided the least fiber themselves.

Really all they would've had to do is patch it differently to keep us as a customer. The interesting thing on that, and Chris, that's how I started to see some of the inequities around this infrastructure. All of our outages were happening in the southern part of Fresno where there's higher poverty and the fiber there was older. The engineers would come out of their vaults when we'd have an outage going, oh my actually, when you step on the fiber here, it breaks [00:09:00] and you get more outages. How do you change that equation on the ground? So we actually, Cynthia Schultz, Kim friends, we put together proforma that anyone could come borrow contract that anyone should be happy to say, yeah, we'll sign on with that. And I tested with multiple fiber carriers and then we had a invitation to bid. Anyone could come and compete and instead at and t brought their lawyers probably six to eight years of good [00:09:30] hard fighting through the bid process.

We now have at least fiber that is 20 to 100 times faster than 2019. We're saving taxpayers 40 million over 20 years. And because it's a fiber ring with sub rings, it doesn't go down well when it gets a cut, it's fixed within an hour because we have a carrier who cares. That's fast networks. So I'll give them tons of credit. And the cool thing about that, and this sort of goes to the community resilience piece, I reached out to them after they won the bid, so there's all [00:10:00] above board. I said, Hey guys, we've got a lot of public housing that doesn't have fiber reaching out to those, these complexes, and we need some way to reduce the cost of getting fiber there. So that at some point, I wasn't yet aware of the multi-dwelling unit challenge where we can actually get those things lit up less expensively. And they said, yeah, when we bring fiber to your schools, it's 110 new miles of fiber across the fiber desert. When we bring fiber to those schools, we'll bring it past public housing also. So big shout [00:10:30] out to Vast Networks and what they're doing in the Central Valley. They care.

Christopher Mitchell (10:34):
And so you're talking about the schools at this point are making sure that you have good connectivity to all your different facilities and that when they're planning the route between facilities, they're going to try to make sure that they are going right by these apartment buildings that have high poverty to make sure that it's going to be low cost to later hook them up.

Philip Neufeld (10:53):
Exactly. And that's the ability we have with our purchasing dollars. And so we can solve what's necessary for the [00:11:00] schools or the libraries, whatever it might be, where you municipalities in a way that actually changes the landscape of what's possible for new cell towers or our own LTE system.

Christopher Mitchell (11:13):
Yeah. So do you want to go next into LTE or talk about the data mapping? I don't know what happened first. It

Philip Neufeld (11:19):
Was actually sort of both first phase of LTE because of these esser funds, we had six months to do. It only takes three years. We did 15, I called it [00:11:30] buildings as towers because you couldn't go the DS A, the division of state architecture for California processes a year to two years. We only had six months to get these things installed. And we did 15 sites in some cases, 50 to 70 megabits, which some people would call and some folks would say, well, that's not great, Phil. I said, have you walked in these neighborhoods yet? And what they currently get from at t and T-Mobile and it doesn't work, right? And we've done a study, as you're aware, that CAT study [00:12:00] that shows the economic benefits of doing your own LTE versus paying long-term for hotspots that are for the commercial carrier. So we did that the second, and we did that based on the most impacted areas in terms of their ability to not get a good cellular connection.

Christopher Mitchell (12:22):
So in this case, the school is literally putting up wireless towers to transmit into the homes of students using [00:12:30] LTE technology, sometimes called private LTE, but the school's doing this. And then you and I were a part of a study that I'll try to surface and get into a post that talks about other folks doing this. But also I should note that as we go through this, you have a collection of PDFs that are going to be in the show notes that people might want to pull up for a later part of the discussion.

Philip Neufeld (12:50):
We then use the data to inform what we were doing with the second phase, which is going to be another 35. These are true towers. It's a musco 65 [00:13:00] foot pole that gets the radio up to a nice location to get better RF signal, better overall overlap of that signal, and it's driven by the data in terms of where the highest needs are. So I'm real excited about that. That's due to division of state architecture not as moving as fast, but we should have that completed by the end of this year.

Christopher Mitchell (13:20):
And so you have already been deploying LTE, you've been running that network and you're talking about that you're going to be expanding it with these new towers.

Philip Neufeld (13:29):
I think the other [00:13:30] is we're going to see increased adoption because remember in the old days when you had a cell tower and all of a sudden you went to another, you kept your car driving or you might move and it's like, ah, it doesn't work as well here. I think we're going to see better adoption with the overlap and the better RF signal quality with those towers. And so that'll be a help because this is the key piece. The regulatory environment hasn't changed enough to require Comcast to deliver the same quality of service in every neighborhood. And because I've been involved [00:14:00] in Quin Valley Network, it's a partnership with the California Educational, the emerging technology fund and eight counties to see which providers would play with all the different fund streams that were coming up, like bead and broadband funding in California for last mile. Comcast is not planning to invest in low income neighborhoods, particularly in urban areas or solve for what's happening in the multi-dwelling complexes. They're picking markets [00:14:30] that they think they can lock in on and some small and it's good, some small rural areas, but essentially for the next five to 10 years, there is no investment despite all these wave of funds in these low income neighborhoods. So that we've got to as anchor institutions do something about that.

Christopher Mitchell (14:48):
And this would be a good moment to just note that to and through from the Shelby philosophy, from the schools, hospitals Library Broadband Coalition. Tell us briefly about that. And then I want to come back to Comcast [00:15:00] and just make sure we're substantiating some of the thoughts about that because I don't want to just make general claims.

Philip Neufeld (15:06):
So the Shelby notion is, so let's schools, healthcare Library, broadband Consortium, they advocate at a federal level with folks like the F-C-C-N-T-I-A, the White House Congress, do a phenomenal job. I'll acknowledge I'm on the board and super supportive of what they do. It's so important. So the notion of to and through here is, alright, if we're not going to see [00:15:30] carriers invest in low income neighborhoods, how might we do public private partnerships? How might we do investment on our own so that the taxpayer already funded E-Rate fiber to the schools, for example, could use its existing capacity to serve the local neighborhood. How might it use that after hours to serve residents in these areas or how might it [00:16:00] change what's possible on the ground in terms of fiber to actually make new things possible? So that's the two and through notion that's in so many places actually taking effect with municipalities, schools, libraries, thinking differently and in some cases, and this is just a beautiful thing where they partner together to say, Hey, the way I would say it is every one of our household has every one of our respective stakeholders, and if we're not working [00:16:30] together, we're just not being real wise about the use of assets.

Christopher Mitchell (16:34):
Now, when we go back to Comcast, one of the things that we've typically seen with cable technology, and I've seen this with Comcast, is that when they're upgrading a neighborhood, they typically will upgrade the actually the entire metro really. Typically it's not the case that Comcast would leave some neighborhoods behind in a similar way that a telephone company would invest in just some blocks or some neighborhoods [00:17:00] and then leave other ones behind. The nature of the cable investment is it tends to be sticky in that the neighborhoods tend to be all done at the same time. Now, at the same time, I'll say in my personal experience, we also know Comcast didn't build all these networks. They were built by a whole bunch of different companies over the years, some of them better than others. And so here in St. Paul, I always had pretty good experience from Comcast where I live and just two miles away, a network fiber network architect that I know who knows this stuff well, he did not have good [00:17:30] experiences with Comcast because we are on different nodes and so we see different things. So when you say that some neighborhoods have been left behind, this is not you just sort of generally saying it, you've actually collected data.

Philip Neufeld (17:43):
Yes, aware enough from a technology background around some of the topology they use. And to your point, they may have inherited some things. They may have invested in some areas, but there is sort of this notion that the poor aren't investible, that they aren't going to be a return. [00:18:00] And I disagree with that vehemently, but the challenge here was we need to collect data to understand which students, for example, are having challenges connecting. Because the reality is that the instructional, the learning apps that exist, like Khan Academy with Amigo, you've got built-in mentors. You've got really rich curriculum that's adaptive and helps where you're at and how do you do your right. Next thing, reading Progress uses AI to immediately say, here's [00:18:30] how you read and here's where you can improve. And so all these resources are available and there's a good study by Andrea Weaver from the Digital Promise talking about their impact on life trajectories.

We need to get data on that. So which students have a device, which students have connectivity, which students, students have poor connectivity so that you can, Hey, why don't you go to the community center? You're going to get better connections there, but it also helps us know which neighborhoods to invest in. At the end of the day, it [00:19:00] also helps us understand where we need to invest or advocate at a state level. I want to go back just for a second. I've worked in healthcare, I've worked in ag, I've worked in water. The veracity and utility of data in any of those fields has been assumed for years better ways to collect the data, to triangulate, to get to what's real has been taken as sort of a basic in any industry when it comes to the broadband industry. I've [00:19:30] learned over the last couple of years, the carriers get to say what they want to say about a neighborhood and they're allowed to get away with that, right?

Christopher Mitchell (19:39):
There's no truth. Yeah, there's no independent measurements. I mean, it'd be like if a gallon was one measurement in one spot and then a different measurement in a different spot.

Philip Neufeld (19:48):
I worked in ag. If you were to say that to your point, there's a whole measurement, measurements and scales organizations in every state and federally around truth. [00:20:00] So to that point, had to build something. And I've programmed about eight languages in my past lives and I was like, okay, I can do this, but I'm not as good as I used to be. I don't have enough hours between 12 at night and six in the morning to code anymore. So happened to hire a gentleman for our data analytics work. We've been working with Microsoft on learning analytics, something called open Education Analytics, and [00:20:30] Brian Alara, I give him credit every time because within two weeks of landing at Fresno Unified Asset, Hey, here's what I'm envisioning. And he coded it and made it a reality. It's called my Quality of Internet, my QOI. It runs on every one of our laptops and it's open source for a very good reason.

Any district can do this. Other districts like Oakland have modeled their work around it. We've talked to Baltimore, Chicago, and other cities who are trying to figure out how to gather this sort of data. And then what it does is it, and this is all configurable. [00:21:00] It runs a Internet speed test at nine 30, assuming you're at school at that moment, at three o'clock, probably after school learning, and at seven o'clock you could configure it to run more times. What we were trying to be cautious of is having it run too often and potentially slow laptops down. Now, these laptops are because of ECF funding, the emergency connectivity funding all new as well. So we had 80,000 laptops getting three measurements a day, 14 million [00:21:30] measurements to date plus measurements. And gosh, in any field you'd go, that's phenomenal. Let's use that data.

Christopher Mitchell (21:38):
I assume that there is some sort of offset. So you don't have 70,000 student laptops all at the exact same standard time pinging the same measurement server?

Philip Neufeld (21:52):
No, we actually do, but it's such a small, the ICMP protocol is so lightweight that it really doesn't affect [00:22:00] the computer's performance nor the servers performance. We use ucl, but we easily could use M Labs or some other backend servers. Part of it, the reason we use UCL is they're trying to tell the state one time, Hey, you can buy the data from us and you'd have much better data. Thumbs up to that. I love them to buy M Labs data as well. But here's the thing, I'm dual citizen Canadian by birth. There's a song about Bruce Coburn about a tree falling in the forest, right? It's about social justice. [00:22:30] And the reality is that in low income neighborhoods, because Internet sucks so bad or it doesn't work, students aren't going to go, let's run a speed test. I know it's not good. So generally tech folks like me who are like my 500 meg network isn't working properly, let me do a speed test, are going to run speed tests.

They don't run by default. And so by having these laptops, all of them do the speed test, it doesn't matter which neighborhood, we get a good sense of what it looks [00:23:00] like all the way down to a very specific geography. And that's been helpful. The Public Policy Institute for California used that, for example, in one of their reports. And yes, it completely aligns with what we would call redlining in terms of where we see poor performance. This isn't meant to incriminate the carriers. It's like, guys, we've got data that should be helpful. They should be welcomed. So Comcast makes over 19 billion [00:23:30] a year after taxes, or do you want to invest that money? If you created a better service for our urban population in Fresno and our Fresno Unified students in their households, boy, they would actually probably be happy to buy more streaming services and make you even more profitable. Our data shows where you need to invest, come invest.

Christopher Mitchell (23:52):
So your tests are collecting data. Then on your LTE network, they're collecting data on your in-school, Wi-Fi networks, they're collecting [00:24:00] data on the private networks that people are using. Whatever people, if a person's going to visit their grandparents in Seattle, they might be getting a test from there. Good

Philip Neufeld (24:08):
Point. Yes. In fact, we were showing this to Oakland, and the interesting thing, we didn't think about this. We saw a bunch of red dots from our students in Oakland, and then it dawned on us students don't just sit in one house all the time. Quite frankly, out of my exploration of that, I really echoed with other people in Shelby as we were looking at our [00:24:30] three-year strategy and mission, the notion of across the daily journey and chairwoman Rosen Worth understands it as well. Internet access, if it's equitable, has to be across the daily journey. And from a healthcare standpoint, from those of us who have it, take that for granted. I could be in the mountains at a cabin at the coast, and occasionally I've been in spots where it doesn't work. And then I go, hold on a second. I should be able to get an answer to anything from [00:25:00] whenever I want. We take that for granted, but in the reality, we've got to make sure students have access in their households at the schools and community centers between. But yeah, so funny to see these signals of our students and Oakland when we're talking to Oakland about this data collection.

Christopher Mitchell (25:19):
Okay, so do you want to talk about the charts that people could check out quickly and then we'll talk a little bit more about how much the CPUC welcomed this dataset? Yeah.

Philip Neufeld (25:29):
So [00:25:30] first of all, we can slice this and dice this data in different ways. We can look to see where are all of our unserved students load. So you'll see a chart on that, but then we can ask, okay, where does Comcast have students who are unserved, which is less than 25 megabits per second, similarly with underserved students. And so when you see these charts, you can definitely see where these different speed test measurements are. We use an approach that says, if you're getting more than 20% of your measurements at [00:26:00] unserved, you're likely to consider that from a user experience standpoint as unserved. Typically the distribution is around 40 to 60% of the measurements are unserved when a student is designated as unserved,

Christopher Mitchell (26:11):
Right? Because you wouldn't expect that every measurement is going to be under 25 in a given place.

Philip Neufeld (26:17):
Now, it was sort of shocking. The city of Fresno took our data and actually looked at multi-dwelling units, and were finding students were getting on average seven meg, 10 meg. And let's remember that when we talk about [00:26:30] how California expects the challenge for data to come in. So the CPUC says, we have in Fresno County, about 3% who are uncertain. The census in 2020 said it's about 17. It's a knocking on door methodology, a little more rigorous. Microsoft's digital equity dashboard, which has got a high fidelity speed test based on upload download speeds, says if it's about 47.8% of our population who are unserved based [00:27:00] on my quality of Internet data, it looks like in our metropolitan area, it's about 27% who are unserved. And that's much different than the 3%. And unfortunately, that mapping data determines who's eligible for all these funds that are coming. And when you're not counted, you don't get invested in one more time. So that's a challenge. And then last piece, Chris, I'll talk about is unconnected students. Okay, so you give a laptop to a student. We've got [00:27:30] students who don't connect over an entire academic year, and I don't know any student who with a brand new laptops not going to want to connect. Now we're talking outside of school. Okay,

Christopher Mitchell (27:39):
Yeah. This is one in six students.

Philip Neufeld (27:42):
Yes. It's crazy. What's the value of the laptop when you take it home? And yeah, there might be different reasons that it's not being used at home, but that means no measurement across an entire academic year. And and I was like, wow. But what about [00:28:00] what at t and Comcast might save? So we were one of the last ones to be able to use the bridge to broadband data program from Education Superhighway. They're an organization that does phenomenal work, and I really appreciate their current focus on multi-dwelling units. We take that 12,875 students who are unconnected. Comcast actually said they had, and I didn't know they were going to give us this data, they had 8,365 or above 11.5% of the addresses we provided to them were unserviceable.

Christopher Mitchell (28:30):
[00:28:30] And so of the students that had never connected almost 12%, Comcast said, well, we cannot serve that location.

Philip Neufeld (28:39):
And I didn't know they were going to do that. I thought they were just going to tell us who's currently subscribed and who isn't. So availability is an issue, not just in apartment complexes, but also in serviceable locations. So that was a shock. But I like many others across in these moments, [00:29:00] one has been maligned and kicked to the curb by at t when we're fighting for fiber to our schools, better fiber. And Comcast actually has shown up and said bad things about Phil because they don't like the data. And I've got colleagues in other cities who have had the same experience. I just wish Comcast would go, gosh, the poor are investible, and let's improve the speeds because they'll be with us and we'll sell more content [00:29:30] if we improve the speeds. So that's some of the data we've gathered. We're continuing to gather that data. It's super important in multiple ways, including helping carriers understand where they can improve their service.

Christopher Mitchell (29:44):
And I think one of the things that people should know is that one of the last, third to the last I think slides shows your private LTE cellular network, you've put a lot of time and effort into a community solution. And not [00:30:00] just that, but also in talking about being involved in the regulatory solution for the entire state. Because I think, and tell me if I would misclassify this, but your LTE network, it is a bridge. It's like a temporary bridge. If you're in a war situation, you just got to cross something. It's not meant to be the long-term solution.

Philip Neufeld (30:19):
Yeah, I agree. It is a bridge until we actually have the substantive investment of fiber to the home, every home in urban areas and in multi-dwelling complexes, fiber to the [00:30:30] unit, and then really good wireless access across the complex. So it's a bridge that way until a better solution shows up. It's also a bridge network in the sense that it's the way, even if you had fiber to every home, back to that point about Internet access across a daily journey, it's that bridge to connect people in that fashion as well.

Christopher Mitchell (30:52):
And then you also, in the final slide, I have a note about, and this feeds into a larger problem that we've seen not only in Fresno, [00:31:00] but here particularly, you note that at t's application for what's called the FFA, the federal funds account through the California Public Utilities Commission, there's a bunch of money available under a pretty interesting program to get connected at and t put in, and they're proposing to make sure that a giraffe is connected in the zoo while nearby areas that desperately need connectivity are considered served already.

Philip Neufeld (31:25):
Exactly. It's beyond outlandish. And so [00:31:30] unfortunately, they could easily have taken the $2 billion and not oversubscribed it and gamed it, but instead actually invest in those areas of low income neighborhoods that most need this. Part of it is because the maps might not make them eligible, but part of it is truly a gaming of the system. There are municipalities, there are other carriers who actually are trying to make a difference, but it's at this point quite well gained. [00:32:00] Basically, they're taking areas that are more affluent and coupling with them with what would be the minimal number of unserved areas. And then this instance that you're talking about, they literally took the draft feeding 40 unserved locations in the zoo and said, Hey, we're solving for that in some way. Right? Beautiful drafts. I love feeding them when I get to the zoo, but I've never heard them say, yeah, Phil, man, I wish I had better Internet.

Christopher Mitchell (32:26):
Yes. Yeah, they want to relive some of the glory videos [00:32:30] of watching giraffes taken out lions on the Savannah. I'm sure. I'm curious though about the CPU C'S reaction then, because we know that the California Public Utility Commission, we've had Shana on to talk about this, we're pretty frustrated with some of the maps they've developed. How have they reacted to the dataset that you've developed for Fresno?

Philip Neufeld (32:52):
So the CPU C commissioner's offices, they listen. Their response often is that they're [00:33:00] following the T'S guidelines on the challenge process. And just for the listeners here, the challenge process says for any particular challenge, you have to have a copy of the bill and affidavit that they're getting certain plan. Okay, here's the irony of that. The minimum plan is 50 megabits per second, and so if you're getting seven or 10 or 15, it doesn't matter what plan they had, it's uncertain.

Christopher Mitchell (33:25):
Yeah, there is no plan that has seven megabits a second. They could be on,

Philip Neufeld (33:29):
And [00:33:30] we in 20 23, 20 24 should use crowdsourced large scale data like this to inform reality in some fashion in GIS and mapping and lots of fields, you can have multiple layers. You can have multiple sources of data to inform what's real and somehow other, they're not there yet. So they're sort of putting on NTIA. But I've one time had a [00:34:00] short conversation with Alan Davidson, the director there, and his concern was how well would states pay attention to the challenge process in a way that made sure the money went where it needed to? And I've heard N Ts say, look, the FCC maps improving states don't need to be held to that map alone. They can do their own improving. And as you know, Chris, there are states that are using this sort of data and have been for a while, and Shelby's got a work group that [00:34:30] looks at broadband deployment and mapping, and California can learn from others.

But so that's at that point, Cal advocates we've been having some recent conversations with, and they understand the challenge and are interested in trying to improve that. They're sort of a watchdog within the CPUC, if you will, and really focused on equity. The challenge right now is so much of this is driven by the incumbent carriers who aren't serving low-income neighborhoods, [00:35:00] but they get to dictate how the challenge process works and who gets approved from a challenge. And we've got to find some way to have the capacity out of state to accept crowd scaled data, but also give anchor institutions support. I haven't talked directly to and it's something I need to do. We need some capacity to take the data. We've got 14 million measurements, and then bring that to the serviceable location addresses to [00:35:30] be able to say, okay, this, that, and in a form that the CPC can accept.

We've got to actually compete as states to get better at on the ground data about broadband longitudinal. How are you improving things or are things not improving? And really focus on the equity equation. If we really make sure broadband Internet access is across available across the daily journey, NPLS homes of quality and performance, our learning outcomes are going to improve. Students are going to be [00:36:00] better prepared as employers and entrepreneurs. Our national competitive stance changes. We're going to have people who are healthier because of mental health and physical health services that can reach into their neighborhoods as opposed to forcing 'em to drive to some hospital somewhere. There's so many positive outcomes when this basic utility is available in a performative and affordable manner to everyone.

Christopher Mitchell (36:28):
The part that gets me, and I [00:36:30] push this down, it's not always productive, but I think it is worth surfacing to talk about sometimes, is that if we had a situation where it was only the poor kids that went home and had high quality Internet access, I don't think we would see the state, the federal government and the CPUC kind of taking this. Yeah, the maps don't really work, but we're figuring it out. And maybe some year we'll have some good maps. We're trying to figure it out. Everyone knows poor people aren't served as well. [00:37:00] What are you going to do about it? But it is pretty clear to me that if it was the wealthier kids that were going home to not having Internet access, this would be a big priority. It is just so frustrating because your data shows that what we are doing to map and figure out where this problem is, is fully bankrupt. It does not work. And I'm not talking about intentions, incompetence, whatever. It is a hard problem to solve, and I'm just annoyed. It feels to me like they're like, Phil, your data's really inconvenient. We don't know what to do with it.

Philip Neufeld (37:30):
[00:37:30] And we know from so many industries that this data is manageable and it's possible to do substantive work with it. We have started a coalition in Fresno County, and we're working potentially with other counties here called the Fresno Coalition for Digital Inclusion, and we're trying to bring this data to advocate at a state level. We're all working from the side of our desks. There's political jeopardy in that sort of effort sometimes, but it's the only way we're moving us forward. I would just also want to call out Shana [00:38:00] and the folks at the California Lines for Digital Equity who are working across California. We actually had an event, and you were at Chris Way that was so cool to be in space who were people who are doing similar work, Patrick and Georgia from Oakland Undivided to be in physical space with them and strategize because we need full-time advocates, full-time legislative analysts to move the needle on this because the technology is not the challenge. [00:38:30] We could literally take all the one-to-one laptops that exists in K 12 and in higher ed and have much better understanding of where need is, and it wouldn't be hard to actually aggregate that at a state level.

Christopher Mitchell (38:44):
Well, I do want to say one other thing. You can react however you want. I don't mind if people telling me I'm wrong. I want anyone who's listening to this show deserves to hear different opinions. But I would say that you've challenged Comcast and at and t to invest more in these areas [00:39:00] in the wireless companies as well. And I think there's some merit to that, although I also feel like there are real challenges to collecting revenues in these areas. We have done such a poor job as a country of making sure everyone has a real opportunity to thrive, that there are places that have real poverty. In my mind, the fact that we have neighborhoods that are left behind doesn't necessarily have to be a problem that Comcast or at and t have to solve. What drives me nuts is the way in which they're not saying, [00:39:30] Hey, you know what? Let's find a solution for these low income areas. Instead, they're saying, we don't trust you to do this. We don't want you to upset our apple cart. We're worried that if you invest in these areas that then it will later impact our ability to extract revenue. And so they're not sitting on the sidelines. They're actually, in some ways, working against a solution is what I fear.

Philip Neufeld (39:53):
You're right. And really, we could partner with them to increase subscription as long as they're open to [00:40:00] fair competition and fair pricing. But you're absolutely right. Think about healthcare, the subsidies that exist there to make sure everyone can participate. We need to think about those sort of solutions. And in some cases, if you're not going to show up in our markets, let us do the work. If you don't think there's a return on investment in our low-income neighborhoods, fine. Just stay out of our way then. But at the same time, I've shown this data to people like Sonic and others [00:40:30] who literally go, we didn't know Fresno had a problem because the data didn't show it. So one, the data has to be honored to show there is a real need in low income neighborhoods. Look, we want anyone possible to show up in Fresno to help us solve for this.

And if you're not going to do that, please get out of the way. But for-profit companies, I've got businesses, I've had businesses. You need to find a way to make sure there is a return. But the one thing I've known, and I served about [00:41:00] 10 years on an international non-government, organizations that did investment in economic development and entrepreneurship. People in low income conditions do want better and are hardworking. And if we invest in them, even as for-profit companies, there's still a return. And we need, to your point, figure out what the ecosystem needs in different markets to actually have sustainability and be equitable at the same time.

Christopher Mitchell (41:27):
Well, and I think as we wrap up here, I'll say [00:41:30] bring it full circle to you mentioning toward the beginning about the other industries. And this is one of the reasons why markets work when there is a price signal that is transparent when parties have the right information. And one of the things that I find hilarious is that people who want to collect pricing data and make sure the market is transparent, are accused of being some kind of anti-capitalist socialist when in fact, if you want Sonic to know where to invest, they [00:42:00] should be able to know how much at and t or Comcast are charging in different areas and what the quality of services. That is what allows for a competitive system. And we don't have that because our regulatory bodies have refused to collect and publish that information. Yeah,

Philip Neufeld (42:14):

Christopher Mitchell (42:15):
So anyway, I don't mean to jump up on the soapbox, but I think you lay out this data so well, and it's just really important that people, I think, appreciate that there's things that we can do here. This is not [00:42:30] something where it's like the poor will be with us forever. We can actually solve some of these issues.

Philip Neufeld (42:36):
Absolutely. Yeah. Because when the poor are given opportunities, they arise to the occasion.

Christopher Mitchell (42:42):
Yes. So thank you, Philip. Thank you so much for your work and for your time today. Thank

Philip Neufeld (42:47):
You so much.

Ry Marcattilio (42:48):
We have transcripts for this and other podcasts slash broadbandbits. Email with your ideas for the show. Follow [00:43:00] Chris on Twitter. His handle is at Community Nets. Follow community stories on Twitter, the handles at muni networks. Subscribe to this and other podcasts from ILSR, including Building Local Power, local Energy Rules, and the Composting for Community Podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly While you're there, please take a [00:43:30] moment to donate your support in any amount. Keeps us going. Thank you to Arnie Sby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons.