According to the FCC, the current national broadband map just isn’t cutting it anymore
Across the U.S., individuals have varying levels of access to fast, reliable broadband service depending on location. In general, those living in rural communities have fewer connectivity options and slower internet service than those residing in more densely populated, urban cities. The result is millions of underserved and unserved homes and businesses, a challenge further deepened by the complexity of discovering exactly where the gaps in service exist.
The practice of broadband mapping, first suggested by former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) commissioner Rachelle Chong, details the geographic landscape of internet access service, including metrics like speed and price, from telephone and cable TV companies.
More than a decade ago, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was tasked with coming up with the first-ever National Broadband Map depicting the state of broadband across the country. Responsibility for this map was later assumed by the FCC.
Lately, however, the FCC has been vocal about its belief that there remain significant gaps in national broadband coverage and that the current map just isn’t cutting it anymore. “Let’s face it, the National Broadband Map is rooted in its time. It’s showing its age. It needs an update. That’s because this map simply doesn’t provide an accurate picture of where service is and is not across the country,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “We need to do better,” she added.
In response, the FCC established the Digital Opportunity Data Collection to collect geospatial broadband coverage maps from fixed broadband Internet service providers of areas where they make fixed service available. Previously, the data was collected at the census block level, meaning the entire area would be marked as “served” even if only one person or business had access to broadband.
The new digital data collection better pinpoints where broadband service is lacking, informing the commission where support from last year’s Connect America Fund Phase II auction, which allocated a total of $1.488 billion in support to expand broadband to more than 700,000 rural homes and small businesses over the next 10 years, is most needed.
“As we focus on reforms designed to provide all Americans with access to high-speed broadband service,” commented FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, “it becomes more important for us to be able to identify with more precision the declining number of Americans without such access.”
The FCC’s plan to bring broadband to rural communities requires incremental funding that is authorized in waves. The fourth and most recent wave took place a week ago with the FCC authorizing more than $121 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 36,579 unserved rural homes and businesses in 16 states.
During the third wave last month, the FCC authorized more than $524 million over the next decade to expand broadband to 205,520 rural homes and businesses in 23 states including Colorado, California, Kansas and Texas.
Significantly, a press release from the FCC showed that in the case of Chenango, NY, funds are being allocated to just a single location. The singularity of this allocation speaks to the precision of the FCC’s new method of broadband mapping by showing that unlike before, a person or business not receiving adequate broadband access will no longer be overlooked if the region is widely marked as “served.”
“As we continue to authorize funds to expand broadband in rural America, I am excited to see the benefits for rural residents who live all across the country,” said Pai.
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