It was certainly an alphabet soup at the WTA meeting this week, especially with regard to the updates from USAC as they interpret and explain the FCC’s planned reporting requirements for A-CAM. There were more acronyms being thrown around than yellow flags on Sunday! (Thankfully it’s football season again!)
Mapcom has been an active participant in several of these discussions. Here’s a quick primer on what we know to date:
USAC has been charged by the FCC with defining the reporting requirements for A-CAM and other funding models.
One of the most pressing questions is the level of precision the FCC expects for geographic coordinates when counting structures served within a particular boundary or census block. One extreme of the precision spectrum would be latitude and longitude coordinates at the sub-meter level. These would have to be collected by expensive GPS (Global Positioning System) field collection devices. And, believe it or not, there has also been a great amount of debate as to whether the GPS point should be taken from the Network Interface Device (NID) or Optical Network Terminal (ONT) on the side of a structure, at the beginning of the driveway, or at a specific corner of the structure.
Mapcom has made the point, on behalf of its customers, that this level of sub-meter precision for the purposes of accurately counting structures within a boundary is overkill and would cost rural service providers tens of thousands of dollars (or more!) in equipment, labor and/or contract services.
On the other end of the precision spectrum is geocoding, the practice of referencing addresses against a road centerline dataset to approximate location. While this method generally produces expeditious results, the level of accuracy suffers as datasets vary, and geocoders have yet to figure out how to account for varying driveway lengths.
There’s a lot of room in the middle, though, for providers to utilize the Geographic Information System (GIS) they already have to geolocate their structures on an accurate land base using aerial imagery (thereby assigning each with geographic coordinates at a precision level of 3-5 ft.) to comply with the FCC/USAC requirements. In most cases there may be some additional tweaking required on the edges of boundaries to ascertain more precisely which structures should be within which boundaries, but that effort pales in comparison to a complete house-to-house GPS field collection effort.
At Mapcom, we’ve made this point at every opportunity.
While USAC is still in the process of deciphering the FCC’s requirements, one thing that does appear to be clear is that the reporting format will likely be a .shp file extension (commonly called a shape-file) – just as it has been with Form 477, the Study Area Boundaries report and others.
A common misperception is that one needs a certain GIS system in order to produce that format. That’s definitely not the case. Virtually all GIS systems have the ability to export their data and accompanying coordinates in many of the industry standard formats. Mapcom System’s M4 software with Universal Translator can export in 350+ different formats!
We will continue to monitor this issue and contribute our expertise and perspective when the opportunity arises, but in the meantime we urge you not to fall into the trap of thinking that every one of the structures has to be geocoded to sub-meter precision by an expensive field collection unit and submitted by a particular GIS application.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call!