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Blog Posts by Michael Byrne

Mapping Progress: Connect America Fund’s Broadband Expansion

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
December 18, 2013 - 01:16 PM

Recently, the Wireline Competition Bureau authorized $255 million from the Connect America Fund to expand broadband in rural areas lacking service.  It’s great news for the over 400,000 rural homes and businesses in 41 states that will get access to wireline broadband for the first time.  And now, you can see more precisely where that expansion will occur on an updated interactive map.

The update of this map is especially useful because this round of Connect America funding includes a process to make sure that we are not subsidizing broadband where other providers are offering service without subsidies. The map shows where funds have been authorized because there was no challenge or challenges have resolved, and areas still subject to challenge. These decisions are based on very local information – down to the census block level – and the map provides a quick, easy, and clear way to identify those areas. Just zoom in! We’ll update the map as challenges are resolved.

The Connect America Fund is part of the FCC’s initiative to bring broadband access to rural communities in order to ensure that ALL Americans have access to today’s essential tools for communications.

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DevEx Day: Developing Innovation at the FCC

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer, and Eric Spry, Deputy GIO, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis
May 15, 2013 - 12:14 PM

We recently experimented with a new idea at FCC: giving a small team 24 hours to create something new on their own. We called this DevEx Day (referred to as either DevEx or FedEx Day). The name is a play on the brand name FedEx, where products need to be delivered in 24 hours, combined with a developer day. This innovative approach arose from the tech industry and has expanded into other sectors. The idea is that for 24 hours, participants work on something new and different from their normal work. It is a focused day of learning new skills or honing existing ones, guided only by the participant’s interest. The day starts with each team member explaining his or her project to the group. The next day, members present their finished products, which are reviewed by the group. And like its original namesake delivery company, participants must absolutely positively deliver overnight.

This approach forces participants to focus intensively. Collegial competition adds the impetus to “deliver”. During the DevEx Day, no meetings are scheduled, no calls are taken, and email stays closed for the team.

The results were terrific. Each member of the entire team delivered working software code, and nearly all published this code on the site, using free and open source tools. Several of these projects have already guided larger projects at FCC, and all have inspired new ideas from team members and reignited creative spark. Too rarely do the people writing the code have a say in the complete “stack” of the environment they are working with. DevEx Day puts them in the driver seat; we can learn a lot from where each driver takes us.

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FCC Releases Machine Readable Data on E-rate Program

October 19, 2012 - 02:52 PM

We at the FCC know the importance of open data to policy making and government transparency. The FCC continues to modernize and streamline how it collects, uses, and disseminates data as smart policies depend on quality data, which should be accessible to the public in meaningful ways using modern digital tools.

Today we’re announcing newly available E-rate program data and the beginning of a process to provide easier access to even more data on the E-rate program.  Working with the staff of the Universal Service Administration Corporation(USAC), the administrator of the E-rate fund, we are releasing the most recent complete year of E-rate records available in machine readable format.  This data, for E-rate funding year 2010, is available for download and analysis here.

The FCC's E-rate program provides up to $2.3 billion a year to schools and libraries to help ensure they have access to affordable broadband and telecommunications services. When E-rate was created by Congress in 1996, only 14% of our nation’s schools were connected to the Internet.  Today over 97% have high-speed Internet access.

This data includes detailed information on what broadband and other communications services and IT equipment schools requested—100K unique service requests and 1.4 million records describing recipient schools and libraries, what categories of service they are actually purchasing, and how much they paid, and how much E-Rate program has dispersed.

We are eager to see what others can do with this data, and to understand what additional data we need to gather and publish to help answer important questions about the impact of the E-rate program.

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Broadband Progress Report Map – Another Digital First

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
August 22, 2012 - 04:34 PM

In another digital first for the FCC, we just released an interactive, web-based map that illustrates our Broadband Progress Report.  This congressionally mandated report assesses how well broadband deployment and adoption is progressing in the nation. With this new map, our report is more responsive to both Congress and the American people.

This map is great for a bunch of reason.  First, as you zoom into the map or pan around, you can explore the intricate details of broadband availability in each and every county in the United States.  These details include not just the population, and income numbers from the census, but the percentage of each county that has access to the major fixed technologies providing broadband service.  This charting feature is a dynamic and robust way to investigate the data, see how different communities compare to each other, or just look at your home town.

Second, the map allows anyone access to the full set of raw data underlying the report. It used to be that maps like this were only viewed through complicated software or with specialized training.  You do not need access to special software, or fancy understanding of intricate bureaucratic processes; all you need is a web browser. 

Third, by publishing this map, we make our own processes more open, accountable and effective. It makes the data available to all Americans, not just specialized practitioners

A few more details. These maps are;

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Mapping the Mobility Fund Phase I Auction

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
July 13, 2012 - 05:18 PM

The FCC is rolling out new mapping tools for the upcoming auction of Mobility Fund Phase I universal service support.  The electronic application to participate in this auction displays maps, based on certain information entered in the application, of areas eligible for Mobility Fund Phase I support.  Applicants will be able to filter their selections, distinguish between Tribal and non-Tribal areas, and view eligible areas in geographic detail. 

Another new use of mapping in the auction process will be implemented in the bidding portion of the FCC Auction System.  In the Mobility Fund Phase I auction, bidders will place bids for support on discrete areas know as census blocks (the same unit of measure the US Census Bureau uses for counting people).  In this particular auction, the bidders know the full list of the blocks eligible for bidding.  The FCC Auction System’s new mapping features allow bidders to visualize their bidding options. 

These new mapping tools provide visual portrayal and confirmation of bidding areas, which is a change from the bidding system’s previous text-only identification of areas.  As the bidders upload lists of the blocks they want to bid on, we offer them a dynamic map of those areas so they can be sure about the locations of their bids. 

We think our dynamic services approach offers significant value to the bidders and demonstrates our commitment to continually make a positive difference.  These are the results driven by a team of people deeply invested in creating innovative solutions. 

We are proud to offer these kinds of service and are looking forward to further developing such utilities.  If you are a bidder, please let us know how to improve it.  

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Thoughts on the Digital Government Strategy

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
May 24, 2012 - 05:47 PM

On a regular basis, I find myself working with increasingly bigger datasets, and investigating increasingly more complicated patterns. However, as data gets bigger and more complicated, government IT budgets are getting smaller. At the same time, the public expects government to quickly provide open access to data in a wide range of formats and delivery mechanisms. This leads to a conundrum - we understand that data is capable of many types of outputs, and we must allow it to serve as many uses as possible while keeping costs to a minimum.

This week the Federal CIO released a strategy for ‘Digital Government’ which challenges us to innovate to meet these growing demands. The strategy contains four themes: information-centric, shared platform, customer-centric, and security. This broad approach to information technologies provides the innovative foundation for the entire strategy. Key to this approach is making our data more open by decoupling it from any predefined presentation layer; in short, publishing data as simple services which anyone can access. The strategy calls for using APIs as a cornerstone to this decoupling.

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Announcing the FCC .Gov Developer Meet-Up

by Michael Byrne , Geographic Information Officer
March 20, 2012 - 02:23 PM


Today, we would like to announce the FCC’s .Gov Developer Meet-Up, a follow up to our very successful developer day last year. The .Gov Developer Meet-up will introduce federal agencies with developer resources on their own hosted websites to the open developer community. The FCC will host the .Gov Developer Meet-Up on April 16, 2012 from 11:00AM- 3:00 PM in the FCC Commission Meeting Room. This event promotes open government and is not to be missed. 

The .Gov Developer Meet-Up is designed to expose the developer community to majority of the .Gov and developer resources currently in production.   The event will also give .Gov producers the opportunity to showcase their resources to the open developer community.  This is a ‘meet-up’ not a traditional code sprint.  We want to foster the developer community and interaction with FCC and other .govs.   Collectively we will learn what challenges and opportunities developers in other .govs face. We’ll also learn more about how developers are interacting with .gov resources.

Each of the 25 federal agencies with developer pages have been invited to give short ignite style sessions on their published application programming interfaces (APIs) or developer resources.   The .Gov Meet-Up will be a series of 7-10 minute ‘ignite’ talks, in which developers participate by asking questions and interacting with the core producers and the whole .gov/developer community, followed by an open gathering & discussion.  The meet-up will conclude with general session where developers can interact with the principals for each of these agencies, write code against these APIs, or present their use cases so government can understand how their assets are being consumed from the outside.  

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Data the Way You Want It – New GIS Data Formats for Mobility Fund Phase I

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
March 8, 2012 - 07:34 PM


Today the FCC is taking another step in our approach towards open government. We are releasing additional formats of high-need data to make it easier to use for individual analysis. The data we are releasing is for the potentially eligible areas for the Mobility Fund Phase I of the Connect America Fund. We first published this data as files for use with spreadsheet and database software and as interactive map with the release of a public notice. While the map is very useful, and the data files thorough, we heard from some constituents who asked for additional help in accessing this data.

To answer that call, we have packaged the data in three ways for you to use, making the data more accessible to everyone. Now, in addition to the published map, the data behind the map is open for analysis by geographers, developers and analysts alike.We choose three of the most accessible data formats for geography to publish: shapfile, WMS, and Mapping Tiles. These formats are either industry standards, are established open standards or are extraordinarily fast approaches to analyzing and displaying the data.

One of the ways we are providing the data as a shapefile for download. The shapefile format is actually four individual files (.dbf, .shp, .shx, and .prj) all with the same prefix. This format is generally recognized as a standard transfer file for geographic information systems data. The shapefile is accepted transfer in just about every GIS software package.

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Understanding Maps at the Federal Communications Commission

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
February 3, 2012 - 05:16 PM


Last October, the FCC quietly deployed a new section to  The section,, translates complex policy into understandable stories for consumers.   Our maps are a fresh approach to internet mapping and help to advance our goal of open government.  Here’s a little insight to the why and how are doing this... 

At the FCC we rely on data to manage and understand complex issues.  We have extensive enterprise data and lengthy legal descriptions of each of their current landscapes, changes in regulations, and effect of these changes.  In many cases, our data on any one of these topics contains millions of records of database licenses or regulatory actions.  Descriptions of our actions are primarily available through public notices, rule makings and formal orders.  

We are always working to ensure that all consumers are able to understand our work to unleash the opportunities of broadband for all Americans.  That’s where good mapping can make a big difference. 

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Connect America Fund: Putting Consumers on the Map

by Sharon Gillett and Michael Byrne, Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau and Geographic Information Officer
October 12, 2011 - 12:09 PM

Last week, Chairman Genachowski unveiled his proposal to accelerate broadband build-out – wired and wireless – to unserved homes, businesses and anchor institutions across the country through the Connect America Fund. If adopted, this proposal would connect millions more Americans to high-speed Internet and bring enormous benefits to individual consumers, our nation’s economic recovery and our global competitiveness. 

View the full map

For example, consumers who make long-distance calls – including nearly all landline and mobile phone subscribers – will benefit from reduced prices or greater value for the money – or both, with an FCC-estimated $1 billion or more per year in benefits for wireless consumers alone.

Reform of the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the Intercarrier Compensation  (ICC) system can’t come soon enough. There are currently 18 million Americans who lack access to broadband. The harms from not having broadband are rising every day for consumers, and for our country.

To help illustrate the size and scope of the challenge – and the urgent need for reform – we have developed this interactive map, which shows with striking clarity that large swaths of our nation are being bypassed by the broadband revolution.

On this map, you’ll see a mix of served, partially served, and unserved areas, often right next to each other. 

Without USF and ICC reform, the map is unlikely to change much.

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