The federal government is making historic investments to bridge the digital divide but still cannot pinpoint where broadband is and isn’t available.
Nearly ten months after Congress passed the $1 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the federal government has yet to allocate any of the $42.5 billion in funding the legislation set aside for expanding broadband service in underserved communities. Under the law, the US Department of Commerce cannot release those funds until the Federal Communications Commission publishes new coverage maps that more accurately shows homes and businesses that lack access to high-speed internet.
What’s wrong with the current maps?
The need for accurate data pinpointing where broadband service is available has never been greater, as service providers and governments use broadband maps to decide where assistance is needed and how to fund the expansion of broadband services. But unfortunately, the FCC’s current national broadband map overestimates broadband availability, and a big part of the problem is how the FCC measures coverage.
Every six months, all facilities-based fixed broadband providers must submit a list of all census blocks where they provide or could provide fixed broadband service to at least one location. Census blocks vary in size and population, and their geographical area can be especially in rural areas. Yet the FCC considers a census block served if even one house or business in the block has service.
What is the FCC doing to develop more accurate maps, and when will they be available?
On June 30, the Federal Communications Commission opened the first ever window to collect information from broadband providers in every state and territory about where they provide broadband services. That window closed this week, and the FCC will soon allow state and local governments and third-party entities to challenge the service provider data.
The FCC’s new data set, accessible to parties registered with the agency, includes millions of broadband-serviceable locations, or BSLs. In addition, the new map uses individually geocoded locations.
These data sources include, among other things, address records, tax assessment records, imagery and building footprints, Census data, land use records, parcel boundaries, and geospatial road and street data. In contrast, the FCC’s current broadband maps lacked any location-specific information.
The FCC expects to release the new maps in November. Once the maps are released, the agency will open a process for the public and stakeholders to make challenges directly through the map interface.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.