WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – While industry players commenting on the release of the National Broadband Map on Friday praised the Federal Communications Commission for its efforts, several critics said that its inaccuracies are too many to be corrected before the map becomes the basis used to allocate tens of billions of dollars of federal broadband funding.
Published early on Friday, the FCC’s new map contains nationwide, location-level availability data submitted by service providers and layered over a dataset of broadband serviceable locations. The FCC has acknowledged that this initial version of the map will contain inaccuracies.
The National Telecommunications and Information Agency is statutorily bound to divvy up the $42.45-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program among the states based on relative broadband need as displayed in the FCC’s maps. The NTIA stated last week that it intends to begin the announcement of states’ allocations by June 30, 2023.
Praise for the map from wired and wireless industry providers
“Mapping broadband availability throughout the country is critical to achieving 100% connectivity,” said Jonathan Spalter, CEO of broadband association US Telecom, “As the maps are refined over an ongoing, iterative process, US Telecom and its members will continue working closely with the FCC on this effort and we’re committed to getting this right to achieve internet for all.”
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association called the map “an impressive leap in technology, light years beyond the previous maps built from the 477 data submitted by broadband providers,” according to a statement from Louis Peraertz, vice president of policy for the trade group.
The map, he said, “has much of the granularity WISPA’s members have been requesting for years. This information, when further refined in the map’s next iterations, will help wisely shepherd the use of taxpayer dollars to bring all Americans online, preventing pernicious overbuilding and directing broadband to where it is truly needed.”
“Not even one household should be left behind, so ascertaining which specific homes are not reached by broadband will enable infrastructure dollars to be targeted to unserved addresses,” said Internet Innovation Alliance spokeswoman Lauren DuBois. The non-profit but industry-focused group called the release of the map “a major milestone on the journey to achieve universal broadband.”
Review process for fixing the map
To ensure successful challenges to the map’s data are incorporated into the NTIA’s decision-making process, it urged challengers to submit data by January 13, 2023 – less than two months after the FCC map’s release.
BEAD funds will be allocated proportionally since the program has a finite amount of money. Therefore, if data for all states is equally inaccurate, the NTIA’s funding allocations will not be skewed. But if a state’s broadband availability is egregiously undercounted in the FCC’s data, it could lose out on badly needed BEAD funds.
No one currently knows how thoroughly the map’s inaccuracies can be corrected before BEAD allocations are made, Scott Woods, vice president of community engagement and strategic partnerships for Broadband.money, told Broadband Breakfast. “The data in some cases is really bad,” Woods said, adding that if FCC was more transparent throughout the mapping process, the public would have a better understanding of the current situation.
“We don’t want to throw the FCC under the bus,” Woods said. “This is an extremely difficult process, but it does not negate the fact that the methodology and approach was flawed.”
Experts at the Pew Charitable Trusts also told Broadband Breakfast on Friday that although the FCC map’s interface seems well suited for individuals checking location-level availability for their home or business, it is unfriendly towards those attempting county or state-level analysis.
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