New National Broadband Map Offers Granular Look at Service and Gaps

Source: Route 50

The Federal Communications Commission on November 18 released an initial draft of a national map showing in greater detail than ever before what locations in the country have broadband service.

The move is a major step toward making sure roughly $42 billion to increase high-speed internet service that was included in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law goes to the places that need upgraded connections the most. The prior map used to distribute federal dollars has been criticized because of its lack of detail about service availability. 

“What happened was that if there was even one location within a census block that was served, that counted the whole census block as served,” and not eligible for funding, Elizabeth John, an associate partner at the consultancy McKinsey & Co., explained in an interview.

Congress ordered the FCC in 2020 to take a more granular approach. The new map that the agency came up with attempts to show whether or not every location in the country has service.

The update comes at a critical time. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is planning to allocate $42.45 billion from the infrastructure law’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program to states on June 30.

States, localities, and even the general public, now have less than two months to challenge the map’s accuracy before NTIA uses the data to divvy up the billions in broadband funding between states, based on what percentage of their residents lack high-speed internet. The agency recommended last week that challenges be filed with the FCC by Jan. 13 in order for them to be considered in time to affect how the money is spread around.

By having the more specific data, areas that had not been able to get broadband funding before may now be eligible, said Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of BroadbandNow, a consumer advocacy group that uses FCC data to study the state of broadband in the country.

“Hopefully it will mean that we see some areas flip green that used to be red,” he said.

Adi Kumar, senior partner at McKinsey added that the prior map “being at the census block level created large inaccuracies about where broadband service exists and where it doesn’t.” 

FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel hailed the significance of the new map. “By painting a more accurate picture of where broadband is and is not, local, state, and federal partners can better work together to ensure no one is left on the wrong side of the digital divide,” she said in a statement.

The initial draft of the map is based on data from internet service providers. But anyone can check their addresses and see if it accurately shows whether they have broadband service. If the map is incorrect, people can file a challenge. Those tracking the process with the maps said that this is a significant change.

Read more here.

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