At long last, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released the first draft of its new broadband map, giving the public its first look at in-depth coverage data about every location in the country. Its debut kicks off a challenge process through which anyone will be able to flag missing or misplaced addresses and dispute service availability date submitted by operators. Here’s what you need to know.
The map is rendered with coverage data displayed in colored hexagons overlayed over a picture of the country. The darker the shade of blue a hexagon is, the more coverage there is. When you zoom in, covered locations appear as green dots while unserved addresses appear as red dots. The default coverage benchmark for the map’s display is 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The display also defaults to showing all technology types – so, wired, fixed wireless access and satellite. However, both of these metrics can be adjusted to filter for different speeds and technologies. More on that in a second.
The homepage for the map prominently displays a search bar where users can enter a specific address to view coverage. This is expected to be the most commonly used feature, but for those looking to get a broader picture, the FCC also provides options for Area Summary view, which can home in on a state, county, Congressional District or Tribal Area.
Users can filter what coverage data is displayed by clicking the gear-shaped Settings icon in the white information box on the right side of the screen and selecting the desired speed metric (25/3, 100/20, 250/25, 1,000/100, etc.) or technology (fiber, cable, copper, etc.). Following future data collections, users will also be able to see how coverage has changed over time by choosing different dates in the “Data as of” dropdown setting. Right now, the only data available is as of June 30, 2022.
It is important to note that speeds listed are the maximum advertised speeds rather than the maximum available at a given location. The challenge process will allow users to tell the FCC if an advertised speed isn’t actually offered at a given location.
Another view on the FCC’s map – the Provider Detail option – allows users to scope out coverage by operator and even compare the coverage areas of more than one ISP. This can be done by clicking Add Provider, typing in a provider’s name and selecting what technology type will be displayed.
A visualization of mobile coverage is also available by clicking the “Mobile Broadband” tab on the right side of the screen. As with fixed service, mobile coverage can be sorted by technology type (3G, 4G, 5G).
A key feature of the map is that it allows users to file both location and availability challenges directly from the map interface when they’re viewing a specific location by clicking the corresponding links in the white data box on the right side of the screen. If a serviceable location is missing, users can also click on the map where the location should appear. A text box will appear with an option to initiate a location challenge. The map will display where challenges have been filed until those challenges are resolved.
Those who want to file mobile challenges must do so using the FCC’s Speed Test app.
All challenges that are submitted will be reviewed by FCC staff and then passed on to the relevant ISP for a response. The operators can then either concede or rebut the challenge. In the latter case, the ISP will reach out directly to the challenger to try to resolve the issue. But if a resolution can’t be reached, the FCC will step in to decide whether the challenge should be upheld or dismissed.
In a note to investors, New Street Research analysts said they expect “many challenges to the map,” particularly from states, given funding from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program will be allocated based on the number of unserved locations in each.
“New York has already done so, and the more states that do so, the greater the financial and political incentives for other states to do so,” they wrote. “The more challenges there are, the more difficult it will be for the FCC and NTIA to meet their deadlines.”
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently said it plans to announce state BEAD allocations by June 30, 2023.
Though only just released, the new map has earned praise from an array of industry stakeholders, including NTIA chief Alan Davidson, operator AT&T and industry groups NCTA and WISPA.
A WISPA spokesperson, for instance, told Fierce its first impression of the map is that it’s “an impressive leap in technology, light years beyond the 477, with much – if not all – of the granularity we have been advocating for years.”
Similarly, NCTA acknowledged the FCC’s work on the map is “far from done” given the challenge process, but deemed the first iteration “a promising step forward.”
For his part, Davidson encouraged consumers, companies and government leaders to take the opportunity to weigh in. “For years we’ve struggled to determine the exact contours of the digital divide,” he said in a statement. “Together, we can craft a map to guide us to our goal of connecting everyone in America.”