GAO Says FCC Maps Overstate Broadband Coverage on Tribal Lands


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The FCC’s data overstate the availability of high-speed internet access on Tribal lands, limiting Tribes’ ability to get funding, according to U.S. Government Accountability Office. In a new report, the GAO makes three recommendations to improve the accuracy of FCC broadband data and better engage Tribes.

The data given to the FCC on broadband availability from providers, “may capture where providers have broadband infrastructure, “However, FCC considers broadband to be ‘available’ for an entire census block if the provider could serve at least one location in the census block,” leading to service “overstatements,” according to the GAO. The Commission does not collect information on several factors—such as affordability, quality, and denials of service.

The GAO consulted 25 Tribes and six Tribal associations. It also contacted nine providers, including AT&T, CenturyLink, Inland Cellular and Verizon and three associations (CTIA, NTCA and the Rural Wireless Association). The GAO said about half of the Tribes had difficulties in getting the relevant information from providers. A representative from a Tribal government, told the GAO that some providers are very focused and transparent about their broadband plans and work with the Tribe, while other providers treat Tribal engagement as a “box to check” and send the Tribe redacted broadband deployment information that’s not useful.

On the other hand, some providers told the GAO they try to engage with Tribes but the level of responsiveness varies. “For example, some stakeholders stated that they send letters and do not hear back from tribes. One stakeholder stated that they make repeated attempts to contact tribes when they do not hear back after their initial contact, while another stated that a provider meets regularly with some tribes,” states the GAO in the report.

The GAO recommends the agency develop and use targeted data collection for a more accurate picture of broadband availability on Tribal lands. It also suggests the FCC develop a formal process to obtain Tribal input on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data, that includes outreach and technical assistance to help tribes participate in the process. Finally, the GAO advises the Commission seek feedback from Tribal stakeholders and providers to determine if the FCC needs to clarify what information is needed.

In response to the report, the FCC agrees with the conclusions and says it has actions underway to address each recommendation. The agency is looking at ways to collect more granular broadband deployment data for Tribal lands as well as obtain better Tribal feedback.   Comments? Respond to [email protected]

September 11, 2018