The Federal Communications Commission put its stamp of approval on its new Digital Opportunity Data Collection plan to improve data collection and mapping for rural broadband to close the digital divide.
Thursday's meeting built on the FCC's approach to broadband mapping that was first adopted in August of last year. The FCC's broadband efforts, which are supposed to identify areas in the U.S. that are either underserved or have no broadband at all, have been criticized for being inaccurate. With billions of federal dollars at stake, the FCC has been tasked by Congress with improving the accuracy of its broadband maps.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai previously said the digital divide gap couldn't be closed until the FCC had access to better data and maps.
During Thursday's meeting, the FCC voted in favor of adopting new rules through its Digital Opportunity Data Collection regime. The commission is now seeking comment on proposals to ensure the accuracy of the new broadband coverage area maps by creating "multiple paths" for consumers, along with states, local and tribal government and other entities, to provide better feedback on the Broadband Deployment Accuracy, and Technology Availability (DATA) Act that congress endorsed last year.
“Fifteen months ago USTelecom set out to prove we could leverage data and technology to cost-efficiently transform America’s broadband maps—and ultimately increase connectivity in rural America," said USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter, in a statement. "That vision is today a reality, and we are proud to have played our part in helping the FCC shape this game-changing mapping plan. Especially at a time when our country is relying on its communications infrastructure more than ever, modernizing our maps could not be more essential and smart policy. Next up: Congress must fully fund this data-driven mapping project so that future federal broadband spending will be based on the most accurate and granular map available.”
Thursday's report and order implemented key provisions of the Broadband DATA Act, including requiring fixed and mobile providers to submit standardized broadband availability maps and taking steps to develop a common dataset of homes and businesses where fixed broadband networks could be deployed, over which service providers’ broadband availability maps will be overlaid.
Congress had previously told the FCC to clean up the mapping process in the Broadband Data Act ahead of the FCC doling out $16 billion in funding for improved broadband services across the U.S. this fall. In the past, both Republicans and Democrats contended that the FCC typically relied on inaccurate broadband data that tends to overstate broadband access across rural areas.
The FCC also seeks comment on proposals for processes for consumers, governmental entities, and other parties to challenge the availability data represented in the broadband maps and additional processes for verifying broadband availability data submitted by the service providers.
“We welcome today’s action by the FCC to implement the Broadband DATA Act to create more accurate broadband maps," said AT&T's Joan Marsh, executive vice president of regulatory and state external affair, in a statement. "Creating more granular and detailed broadband maps sets an important foundation to close the broadband gap. We look forward to continuing to work with the Commission to make the new broadband map a reality so that more Americans have access to high-speed internet.”