Last year, the Bipartisan Policy Center called for improved national broadband maps to accurately represent broadband internet services’ availability. This information would enhance the equitable distribution of federal investments to strengthen U.S. broadband infrastructure. We are pleased to see progress made by the pre-production draft release of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) improved National Broadband Map.
Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act in 2020, requiring the FCC to refine its data collection practices and update the map to reflect precise broadband availability. Over the year, service providers submitted more granular data to the FCC that present specific broadband availability at each location. Previously, the FCC broadband maps displayed data at the census block level, misrepresenting broadband availability in underserved locations. If just one address on a census block reported the availability of broadband services, the FCC maps showed every home and building on that block to have access. This inaccurately characterized the discrepancies in availability, particularly in rural areas where the census blocks cover wide areas of land. With its new process, the FCC designed the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (Fabric) to standardize the data collection process for service providers and improve the granularity of the data collected.
The new map interface allows individuals to submit disputes regarding service availability at their addresses. Bulk challenges can also be made by “state and tribal governments and other entities.” Challenges may be submitted until January 13, 2023, after which the FCC will review the feedback and correct inaccuracies before releasing a final version. In 2023, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will use the maps to distribute $42 billion from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program passed as part of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure package.
While much of the success made over the year will improve the distribution of broadband infrastructure and funding, work still needs to be done to support equitable access to broadband internet services. The current maps do not describe many challenges Americans face when accessing broadband services, such as the high cost of service, experienced coverage limitation, or slow speeds and latency issues. The FCC must be diligent about collecting information about broadband access alongside availability. Using this data, consumers could make more informed decisions, driving greater competition between service providers. Information about why many Americans remain underserved or disconnected from the internet will also inform government funding and subsidy distributions and prevent overbuilding in areas where high-speed broadband services already exist. The FCC also needs a clearer picture of the services that innovative technologies, such as 5G or low earth orbiting satellite networks, provide to inform future discussions about spectrum allocation. Continued progress in innovating their data collection capabilities will also inform investments in new technology and future funding to support further broadband coverage for all Americans.
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