Connected Nation

Nearly $43B for broadband: How CN helps states track broadband spending

April 17, 2024 Jessica Denson Season 5 Episode 12
Nearly $43B for broadband: How CN helps states track broadband spending
Connected Nation
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Connected Nation
Nearly $43B for broadband: How CN helps states track broadband spending
Apr 17, 2024 Season 5 Episode 12
Jessica Denson

On this episode of Connected Nation (CN), we explore how CN's Engineering and Technical Services team  is helping states monitor broadband infrastructure builds and, most importantly, verifying that the billions of dollars set aside to help the most underconnected Americans are spent as promised.

Related links:
Learn more about CN's services by clicking here

See the team in action here->watch the YouTube video

Broadband Communities Summit 2024 -

Book your ticket now!
Use the discount code NATION15

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode of Connected Nation (CN), we explore how CN's Engineering and Technical Services team  is helping states monitor broadband infrastructure builds and, most importantly, verifying that the billions of dollars set aside to help the most underconnected Americans are spent as promised.

Related links:
Learn more about CN's services by clicking here

See the team in action here->watch the YouTube video

Broadband Communities Summit 2024 -

Book your ticket now!
Use the discount code NATION15

Jessica Denson, Host (00:10):

This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods. I have a bit of a riddle for you today. What do Snow Shoes, g pon, and laterals all have in common?


The answer their critical parts in verifying and monitoring the expansion of high speed internet infrastructure, and specifically how billions of dollars in federal funding for broadband are truly spent.


On today's podcast, learn how connected nations engineering and technical services team is helping state leaders ensure work to expand Internet access is done as promised. I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation.


I'm Jessica Denson, and today my guest is John Determan, who is the Director of Engineering and Technical Services at Connected Nation. Welcome, John.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (01:11):

Well, hi Jessica. How are you doing today?

Jessica Denson, Host (01:13):

I'm good. I'm really excited to talk with you today about all that your team does. First though, I like to give everybody on our audience or every guest a chance to talk about their background, so our audience understands where you're coming from and why you've ended up where you are now. So if you could, can you talk a little bit about what brought you to Connected Nation, some of your education, some of your love of technology, and why you do what you do?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (01:37):

Absolutely, Jessica. Well, I began my career in telecommunications many years ago in 1981 when I joined the United States Air Force and got into radio communications after my stint in the Air Force, I got out and worked for a small two-Way radio shop in communications. And while I was in the military, I took classes at the University of Arkansas, did not obtain a degree. I call myself a degree of hard knocks. And after the small radio shop, then I got involved in what was considered back in the mid eighties fixed wireless television. So we used some license. Oh wow. Yeah. Fixed wireless televisions for the rural people. That was prior to the small satellite dishes, so that's when everybody had the huge satellite dishes. I also installed those as part of my job, but then I also worked for the smaller fixed wireless dishes, maybe two foot by three foot or something like that with the fixed wireless dishes.


Ran that for about 10 years through acquisitions and acquired and got acquired by Sprint. And the television business kind of went away because there was a thing that came out called DirecTV, if everybody remembers that, and the small dishes. And that kind of caused us to switch the spectrum use to more of a mobile and an internet-based product in the licensed band that we used. I worked for Sprint Communications all cumulative for about 20 years. Had the opportunity to leave Sprint, took that opportunity, got welcomed into Connected Nation, just kind of on the cusp of when internet was starting to matter, when they were talking about internet as a utility internet. And I thought it was a great place for me to use my skills and try to help them in the telecommunications industry along with Connected Nation, try to educate them in the operations and engineering side of telecommunications.

Jessica Denson, Host (03:38):

Awesome. Well, let's get into what your team does in the field and what you do. Your team sent me a couple of videos of the work you do in the field, explain what you're doing in the field and why it's important.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (03:49):

We were doing an inspection on a recently installed fiber to the home construction in the state of Kentucky,

Jessica Denson, Host (04:03):

And what would be the point of doing something like that?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (04:08):

We were validating the grant area that the provider was obligated to build, and so we wanted to validate that the infrastructure and the infrastructure was available for the locations that the provider was required to build.

Jessica Denson, Host (04:31):

So essentially you're verifying that it is even the plan that they came up with is even viable.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (04:39):

Yep. First, the plan is viable that it covers everybody, and part of the inspection process is how it was installed. And then it met installation specifications, IE above ground proper loop coils, proper span reduction devices, which we call shoestrings or shoes, snow shoes, excuse me, snow shoes. The distance from the location that they were to serve that had have the ports available to serve all the locations from that particular access point, for lack of a better word. In this case, they were using multiport terminals on their fiber.

Jessica Denson, Host (05:25):

Okay. So explain some of those things. What's a snowshoe? What's the different distances? I know it's highly technical, so you really need somebody who understands this to be able to identify it, correct?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (05:37):

Correct. Yeah. Not just anybody can do it. Typically in the fiber to the home installations, that's much more less conducive to distance lengths than a hybrid fiber coax or other similar builds of infrastructure that's capable of delivering the a hundred by 20 megabits per second. So typically in a fiber to the home fiber to the premises build, you're allowed 19 kilometers from the serving center. Now, that serving center could be anywhere from a splitter cabinet to a central office, depends on the design of the network and the type of technology that they're using, whether it's, and here I am with terms g pon, right, x, g, spon, all the different types of deployment styles that they can use, whether it's CX gear, adtran, there's a lot of different variables that work into that, all of which is provided to us prior to deployment. So we know what to look for.

Jessica Denson, Host (06:41):

And something like this that, say this one project that you did with the Kentucky, how long does it take to verify all of that?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (06:49):

Well, in this particular, it was an excess of 300 physical subscriber locations, residential businesses or community anchor institutions. And that particular work took us a little bit over two and a half days to validate first of all that the infrastructure was available, and second of all that the location was where it was supposed to be as part of the bead and ongoing. Many of these locations on what they call the fabric layer are not exactly where they need to be. The fabric layer identification is supposed to be squares center of the structure. Sometimes with the geocoding presence today, those locations could show in the middle of the road, they could show at the mailbox, they could show in the middle of a field. That's just one of the geocoding downfalls currently, as they work on continuing to improve and define the fabric layer.

Jessica Denson, Host (07:51):

And as you say, you're defining this fabric layer, that's critical because it shows us where people actually have access and where they don't have access, or is it just for the build outs?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (08:05):

It's for where they have, where the structure that they need to deliver service to is physically located. And once again, that falls into some of the distance criteria that we talked about earlier, that if the location shows it's out in the middle of a field, a quarter of a mile away from the actual structure and the provider builds or to that specification, they're going to use additional infrastructure to get to that location. That's not particularly required. And in the reverse, if there only the fabric layer shows that the structure is in the middle of the road where indeed it's on a quarter of a mile driveway in the rural areas, then once again, they're not accounting for enough infrastructure to get to that which will affect the bottom line on the cost of the build and as well as the delivery to the consumer.

Jessica Denson, Host (09:05):

That's awesome. I mean, it's very interesting that that is what takes to be able to confirm that they're even doing the build as the grant lays out. Correct?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (09:15):

Correct. And we correct those as well as part of the grant because of the location layer has its deficiencies, we correct those as we're doing the build, we will move and place the actual physical location where it was geocoded to onto the actual structure. So that allows for a nice, clean,

Jessica Denson, Host (09:36):

So you're both assessing what the build is. I say both. There's multiple things. You're assessing where the build is, if it's actually can be done there, if there needs to be less or more infrastructure. And so then you go back and take that information and then what's done with that?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (09:54):

Once we do that, then we provide it to the client, whoever that may be in the case of the state, federal or municipality, whoever the client is, and typically create what is called a punch list and say, these are the items that we found wrong. These are the items that we found, right. These are the items that need to be addressed. And off of that punch list, they will get that additional information. Because as well as part of this, we conduct what are called speed tests, key performance indicators that provide us the speed upload and download in megabits as well as the latency of the network to get to the internet.


And those are also provided to the client. And we also analyze those readings to see if there's maybe some potential flaws in the network if the speeds aren't meeting the requirement as part of the grant, because all grantees are required to meet a minimum speed threshold and as well as a maximum speed threshold. And so we validate those based on consumer's availability. And at the consumer site where we simulate a consumer location in the field using our own, using a provider supply drop cable, et cetera, and equipment, and we simulate that test. Many of the times our inspections is done prior to when the full deployment is completed and shortly after the build is completed. So they build it and they're installing drops to the consumers. And that's typically the time when we're going out and inspecting these, which then is compared against the build charges for the bill of materials that they charged against that project. For an example, to run a mile of underground cable is much more expensive than it is to run a mile of overhead cable as far as the installation costs for that, what we would consider a lateral or a main line.

Jessica Denson, Host (12:07):

Gotcha. So how critical is it for, let me put my question a different way. With bead, there's billions of dollars out there, and so you have maybe not bad actors, but people who haven't been doing it for a very long time, suddenly jumping up and raising their hand because money can have people say, well, I could do that. How critical and important is it as these states start to build out and monitor grants and that type of thing? How critical is it to have somebody who really understands this stuff?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (12:44):

Absolutely critical. There's been in the industry 20 ish or more years, and even though the bad actors seem to be few and far between, they can be very detrimental to a project. Are they not addressed early on in the issue? We at Connected Nation, excuse me, encourage what is called midpoint verifications and validations, and that's based on what the provider either quarterly, semi-annually, whatever the case is, and the project calls for, we analyze their bill of materials and their building, and as they do procurement to hold down funds for that project, we'll do a comparison on how much they've built versus actually have pulled down. For example, in some cases, we've seen providers that have pulled down 80 or 90% of the funds, but have only completed 10 or 15% of the build. That is a huge red flag that there's something going on. Now, it may be perfectly legit based on they've spent a large amount of money on equipment switches, routers, fiber conduit, trenchers, bucket trucks, whatever the case may be for them to get ready to deploy to build the network. But in some cases, that is not the case, and it's maybe an administrative flag that there's something going on here, and maybe it's just a simple misunderstanding, but we like to get out in front of those rather than have them three, four years into the build and all of a sudden you got a whole lot of nothing and you've spent a whole lot of money.

Jessica Denson, Host (14:27):

So it really keeps people, I wouldn't say necessarily honest, but keeps them on track, helps those who are monitoring this dispend in their states because the states are getting the money to really track and keep these things going forward.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (14:43):

Absolutely, absolutely.

Jessica Denson, Host (14:45):

So talk a little bit about, I know that we talk about ETS and engineering technical services. Explain to our audience what ETS is.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (14:56):

Well, ETS stands for Engineering and Technical Services, obviously, and what we do is we have a wide range of functions that we do within the Connected Nation family. We are the provider facing entity where we deal directly with providers to collect data to collect the, as-builts for some of these same projects that we're speaking of. Now. We also do a large portion of fixed wireless testing where that is a wireless element that provides broadband. We do propagation analysis based on some wireless parameters that are provided to us from carriers, from clients to help determine the actual coverage area of a wireless signal. We do a large amount of verification and validation of facilities as well as coverage areas. We do nationwide projects for federal entities that also check, upload, download, that have what I referred to as earlier as KPIs, key performance indicators.


I mentioned the outreach functionality that we do. We have a team that specifically works with providers to garnish that data. Prior to the bead and prior to the location dataset, the providers were required to report coverage based on census blocks, which is a large area. And those we spent, and this would've been in the years 2018, probably to 2020, maybe even 2015 to 2020, trimming those census blocks. In other words, if a provider served, there's 20 homes in a census block, and they served five of them in the Southwest corner, unfortunately, due to the FCC and that reporting. And it was just the nature of the beast. That whole census block was reported as able to receive service. So we would go out and help the clients determine which actual part of that census block was covered.

Jessica Denson, Host (17:00):

So go ahead, finish

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (17:02):

Your thought. Nope, I'm good. I'm good.

Jessica Denson, Host (17:05):

So I know that we've done hundreds of thousands of miles. Connected Nation has mapped and verified hundreds of thousands of miles over the nearly 25 years that we've been around. But talk a little bit about, so talk a little bit about what that takes to be in these different states. How you navigate, whether you're in, I know Alaska versus Texas. I imagine that you run into different kinds of challenges in these different places. Can you talk a little bit about that? And even running into people, I imagine a lot of people are like, what are you doing out here? Right,

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (17:46):

Absolutely. We do get questions from, we will call them curious consumers as we're doing our mapping projects. Most of them are very, very, very politeful, but it's, as you mentioned, it's geographically a challenge because the infrastructure in Alaska is much different than the infrastructure in Texas, which is much different than the infrastructure in Iowa, which is much different than the infrastructure in Kentucky. It seems to follow lateral lines. There's a lot more underground and less overhead the farther north you get, which I would say Iowa North is a lot of underground and a limited area. When you get south of that line, it's a lot more overhead, aerial and underground. Logistically, we have a team at Connected Nation of currently about nine or 10 engineers and technical folks that handle the travel. So juggling the schedules and trying to keep everybody home and on a limited amount of time, trying not home at a limited home as much as we can.


And on the road at a limited amount of time, we work a large amount of weekends. Our team figures, if we're on the road, we might as well work Saturday and Sunday if that'll get us home on Thursday rather than the following Monday. Yeah, okay. So we like to do that. We put in a large amount of hours. We did a project in the state of Michigan that encompassed, at the peak of the mapping, we had 35 trucks, nope, excuse me, 35 personnel mapping, some two-man teams, some single teams mapping the entire state of Michigan. And that caused a lot of people to be away from home for the seven month period that we were in that state. Now, we had a rotating, rotating shift. Everybody would get home at least one week a month for them to be at home. And when they were at home, they were at home once again, as I mentioned earlier, because we worked the weekends. So everybody was working two or three weekends in there. That'll get you your five days off when you get home. Fortunately, we have an administrative staff that completely understands that because that's what we do. That's what we've always done at Connected Nation

Jessica Denson, Host (19:55):

And seven months of mapping the state of Michigan. You guys produced a pretty incredible piece, a lot of incredible data out of that, correct?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (20:04):

Correct. Yeah. I think, I didn't pull up the dashboard and I still monitor it, but it was, I think over 60,000 assets. We dropped something like that, might've been 6,000 or 60,000, but it was a huge amount of assets, huge amount of route infrastructure, large amount of trucks, large amount of administrative work that goes with that, because you got travel expenses, you got gas, you got motels, you got food. It was pretty much nonstop for a staff, even though it was a staff of 35 folks out there mapping. We had additional contracting companies help us more than one singular. We had individual contractors help us. So it was an administrative, nightmare is probably not the right word, but it was administratively a heavy lift to manage that project in the short timeframe that it was, like I said, it was seven months start to finish from when we rolled the first tires to when we turned the ignition off and slowly checked

Jessica Denson, Host (21:01):

Way back home. That really put Michigan, if you'll forgive me for the pun, in the driver's seat when it comes to being some of the likely being one of the better connected states going forward, because they have that data. Correct.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (21:15):

Absolutely. They knew where the infrastructure was and where it ended and where it started, and now we continually update that map for the state of Michigan based on their grant programs they're currently operating. So they've got an ongoing live map that continually gets updated with the data that we collect for the state of Michigan for other projects that we're doing. So they've really got a handheld, they, as far as I was concerned, had the best head start on the bead location mapping. They were the king of the road as far as that goes. Not to take your pun. Thanks for

Jessica Denson, Host (21:50):

Sticking with my pun.


So, okay, so you could do some grant verification that's pretty technical and keeps projects moving forward. You drove some miles and helped create a data map that helped Michigan really challenge some of the issues with the broadband maps where they said they had coverage, where it wasn't really there and that kind of thing. And I know Michigan's using it for several different things, but what are some other things that state leaders or local leaders really can use these services for? What does it lead to? I know that in Ohio we did something with ODOT to help with autonomous vehicles or autonomous buses or something like that. So do you really see that this is wide open and especially considering technology and where it could go and why this matters to have this data?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (22:44):

Oh, absolutely. The telehealth has become a huge reach in the country and knowing where the infrastructure's available for the telehealth options. Once you have it at the hospitals and at the clinics and those places, now you got to get it to the residents so they can actually take advantage of that Telehealth. That's one huge thing. And with Cradlepoint, we did some work in the state of Ohio where, and you mentioned it, where they utilize a cradlepoint for their buses. They have their, I don't want to say emergency service buses, but for their senior citizen buses, for lack of a better word, there's a better word to describe those. But for their services buses, and they were dispatched live and they were unable to, if they had Verizon phones in some locations, they would work fine if they had at and t phones, some places they would work, others they wouldn't.


So we did a complete mapping of, and I won't, don't quote me on exactly the number of counties, but I think it was 13 to 15 counties that had large use of these services. And we mapped all the mobile wireless coverage in those counties to help them, number one, pick a provider that there was most had the best coverage in those counties. And then number two, the second level of the provider available in those counties. And then worked with a company called Cradlepoint that built a device that would select between those two carriers, whichever one was best, so they could use live dispatch. So they didn't go to a home. If somebody wasn't home and wasn't able to make the appointment, they could divert 'em to another one live real time, where in the past there was many locations where they just had to pull over, wait for the data, call dispatch, talk with dispatch, and do all that. And it made it much more seamless and much more efficient and getting the folks to the places that they needed to be for their services.

Jessica Denson, Host (24:43):

And do you have any great stories from on the road that you're able to share

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (24:48):

One or two, able to share great stories from on the road? Boy,


Most of it is the people that we meet. We spend a larger amount of time when we're mapping these and doing discovery work. And how's your internet working topping somebody? How do you like your new internet? It's a lot different stories than we got earlier on when we were, do you have internet available here? Well, yes, we do, but it's not good. We heard that stories in the 2010 to 2015 timeframe. That was the biggest story we had. It's not enough speed. How can I work from home? I can't telework now. Those stories as we go to more newer build areas, the stories have changed. So thank you all so much for doing this. Thank you. The state broadband offices in the States, we've been involved in Minnesota particularly, which I've had a pretty heavy lift in since 2010. That has completely turned to thank you so much for what you do.


Even though we don't have a lot to actually doing the work, we have a lot to do with making sure that they get the service and it's reliable. So that's probably the best part of it. Jessica? Oh yeah. I just think back to 2010 when we were mapping broadband that had anything, if it was five megabit by 200 kilobit, we considered it broadband and one megabit by 200 ki anything was considered broadband. And now we went through the 10 by one phase, the six megabit, or 10 megabit by six megabit. That was a big jump in 2013 or something like that, that big jump. And now then it went to the 10 by one and then 25 by three. And here we are at a hundred by 20 minimum, a hundred by a hundred expected. It's just phenomenal. I live in rural America myself. I have fiber to the home.


My closest neighbors are a mile each direction, and I've had fiber to the home for almost 10 years based on A-U-S-D-A grant that our local cooperative got. So I understand the need. My wife and I both work from home, and I don't know what we would do with a 10 by one megabit connection. We wouldn't be able to work from home. So I feel for these folks, and that's some of the best stories. Alaska, one of the best stories from Alaska is it's very disconnected for people that aren't there. They have 57 school districts, and I went to 55 of those school districts, which meant I spent a lot of time on small planes. Cessna one 40 twos did the landed on water, on the water planes, did all that stuff. And in one particular flight, I was going from, I believe it was Juneau to Pelican Island, and I got in with the pilot and we take off, and it was about an hour and 15 minute flight, something like that.


We went between the mountain passes and landed in pelican. All right. Everything went fine. That entire town isn't on any land. It's nothing but peers. Yeah. So you're on a boardwalk the entire time. Did my work, jumped back on the plane to go back, and he looks over at me and gives me a wink, and he says, want to take the shortcut? And I was like, sure. Tighten the belts. We're going to take the shortcut. So we took the shortcut, and rather than going through the pass, the mountain pass, we went over the mountain pass. Oh, gosh.


Which was very interesting. And about, and I probably shouldn't tell this, as long as the FAA isn't listening, we got over the pass and he looks over and at me and says, do you mind if we take a small detour? And I'm like, sure. So we take a detour and I am like, what are you doing? Where are you going? He says, I want to see where my moose is because I'm going hunting this weekend. Oh, God. So sure enough, we wiggle around a little bit and he spots it and he says, oh, there it is. And sure enough, it was swimming across the stream. And that's that substantive hunting that those folks do. That's how they get their food. So anyway, that's probably the most interesting story that it comes to mind.

Jessica Denson, Host (29:08):

So what do you hope comes from all this work that you're doing and your team is doing in the field in your perfect world?

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (29:15):

I hope, number one, that we assist the states in spending the money wisely and efficiently. That's probably the most important thing, as well as get it to as many locations as possible as economically feasible.

Jessica Denson, Host (29:33):

Great way into that. Yeah.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (29:34):

Yeah. That's the John Deman of Connected Nation feel on what we're doing.

Jessica Denson, Host (29:42):

Well, thanks for joining me today, John.

John Determan, Director, ETS, CN  (29:44):

Well, absolutely. Thanks for having me, Jessica, and I'm sure I'll see you in the future.

Jessica Denson, Host (29:48):

You will. Again, my guest today has been John Determan, the Director of Engineering and Technical Services for Connected Nation. If you're state leader looking for assistance in grant monitoring, broadband access verification, and other engineering and technical services, please email That's INF


As always, I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and want to know more about us, head to connected or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Pandora, or Spotify.


Meet John Determan, Director, Engineering and Technical Services
What ETS does in the field
Looking for potential flaws in the network
Why it's important to have experience in ETS
Curious consumers
Other reasons why this work is important
More about who they meet in the field
What John hopes is the result of his team's work