FCC Broadband Map Makeover Underwhelms Some

In what officials described as an initial step at last Thursday’s FCC meeting, they unveiled an updated national broadband map to track internet speeds across the country. It’s envisioned as a key resource for consumers, policymakers and researchers. However there was disagreement among the Commissioners over whether the new map will really do that, since it only includes fixed broadband deployment, not mobile, and leaves out price.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai described it as a “very meaningful first step as to where access is and isn’t.” Users can search down to the zip code level to find out what companies offer broadband service and at what speed. They can also filter results by speed or region provider, for example, and a color-coded map gives an overview.  

But FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the map contains errors, saying when she typed in her address, it listed services her family doesn’t have. She said, “it’s time to fix the deficiencies in our data” and suggested getting help from the public, such as crowdsourcing, to accomplish that. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said using a map with old data “is like putting lipstick on a pig.”

The agency relies on Form 477 data provided by companies, and has a proceeding underway to improve that collection process. FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly told reporters after the meeting, the agency would like to get more updated data for the map (which is accurate as of December 2016). “You either have broadband or you don’t. The real value of the map is for lawmakers,” he said, to determine how to get broadband to unserved areas.

But O’Rielly has concerns about the Universal Service Administrative Company, the FCC contractor working on the map. “I’m worried given USAC’s track record, [about] them getting this done. I haven’t had a lot of faith in them,” he said. USAC administers the agency’s Universal Service programs such as the Lifeline program, reviewed by the GAO and Congress for alleged fraud, Inside Towers reported.

By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

February 26, 2018


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