LightBox CEO says more states are taking broadband mapping into their own hands

With billions in federal broadband funding already in hand and more on the way, a significant number of states are looking to map internet coverage within their borders to get a better understanding of where help is needed, LightBox CEO Eric Frank told Fierce.

LightBox provides a geospatial mapping service and was previously tapped by officials in Georgia and Alabama to help create detailed broadband coverage maps. This week, Montana also selected LightBox to help it get a more accurate picture of the broadband landscape there.

Frank said these states are far from alone in pursuing mapping initiatives, noting “at least a dozen” states have recently issued requests for proposals (RFPs) for such projects. He added LightBox has been having conversations with other states who haven’t quite made it to the RFP phase but are still gathering information on how best to approach mapping and other broadband issues.

“It’s clear to us that many states have identified that there’s funding available to build these analytics for their own state and that they should do it, that they should get out in front of this, that they should build an analysis of exactly what’s happening in their community,” he said.

The push among the states comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) works to create new broadband coverage maps which will be used to help distribute billions in recently allocated federal broadband funding.

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“Obviously most states think that’s not a good solution, that they are in a better position to compile what’s happening in their market, to understand the nuances, if there’s rural and tribal information to use some of the state’s own data they have and to make the most accurate assessment of what’s happening on the ground,” Frank explained.

In Montana’s case, Frank said the state tapped LightBox to provide an end-to-end solution. That means instead of just supplying its real-estate location data for the state to use to create its own map, LightBox has also been charged with collecting and cleaning up service provider coverage data and overlaying that on its location fabric to create a serviceability map.

Frank said Montana has licensed the data from LightBox so it can be used across state agencies – for instance for highway work – rather than just for broadband.

Telco interest

The CEO added the interest from the states has sparked inbound inquiries from the telecom industry. In these cases, companies are looking for insights that can be used for marketing or strategy purposes, for instance to assess an addressable market or what their share of a market is.

While LightBox has supplied environmental data to the telecom industry for a while, “this is the first time I think telecom companies are coming to realize that data like what we’re talking about exists," Frank said. "I think they were used to Form 477 and didn’t really know that there were providers who gather very specific data on location."