Telecom Reps Tell Congress How to Fix FCC’s Broadband Maps

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CCA’s Steve Berry (left) and CTIA’s Brad Gillen, holding a small cell, testify before a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.

Wireless industry representatives told lawmakers Tuesday better maps are needed to determine where broadband connectivity exists and where it doesn’t, especially now that Congress is considering effective ways to close the digital divide as part of the President’s infrastructure plan.

The Chairman of the Senate Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), said the current FCC maps showing broadband connectivity are “utterly worthless.” He asked why the data is “so wrong.”

Competitive Carriers Association President/CEO Steve Berry replied: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Carriers told the FCC it should measure signal strength, but that was not part of the data the FCC sought when it revised the maps, he said. He suggested the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which has the expertise, work with the FCC to improve the maps. The Commission recently released the new maps, saying they were a first step in planned improvements. “We need NTIA, to help build a better database, not just for wireline, but wireless too,” Berry said. 

The only way to correct the maps, according to Berry, is to challenge an entire area. And they must be challenged, he and other witnesses said, because the maps are key to determining what areas and what telecoms can apply for broadband subsidies.  

Mike Romano, Senior Vice President for Policy, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, said Form 477 data the FCC uses is not granular enough. The information assumes if one location within a census block has broadband, the entire block does. The carrier-provided data also needs to be verified, he said. When the Commission sought suggestions on how to obtain better data, the telecom industry suggested geo-coding.

CTIA EVP Brad Gillen said four national carriers have 5G trials in place now and plan some sort of rollout by year-end. “We’re asking for help to modernize” small cell siting and permitting regulations. Holding a small cell, he said, “these get treated as if they were a 270-foot tower beside the highway.” Siting guidelines were last updated in 2012, he said and asked for lawmakers support for measures to update and streamline small cell siting and permitting.

Saying that America leads the world in 4G connectivity, Gillen added: “Now we’re in the global race for 5G. China wants to win. We’d like to win, too.”

By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

March 14, 2018                      

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