University Creates State Broadband Map for ISPs Before FCC Auction

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Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will soon be eligible for federal money under the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in exchange for expanding service to underserved “census blocks,” reported State Scoop. The Commission will distribute funds based on its location maps, which have been “widely criticized as inaccurate,” according to the account.

Last June, researchers at the Pennsylvania State University conducted their own speed tests and found “zero counties in the state in which more than 50 percent of the population had access to broadband, despite FCC maps showing 100 percent availability across the entire commonwealth.” So, PSU researchers teamed up with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to create a broadband coverage map dividing the state into census blocks and indicating areas that don’t have access to affordable broadband. The map, created by Penn State Extension, was released on Tuesday. 

“One of the great realizations to many policymakers, to educators and to retailers during the COVID-19 outbreak is the inability of Pennsylvanians in rural areas to access high-speed broadband,” Brent Hales, director of Penn State Extension and associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences said in a press release.

Beyond indicating which areas are eligible for federal funding, the map also shows where existing infrastructure like transmission lines, substations, and towers are located, reported State Scoop. The map lists legislators in each block to help ISPs identify which state and federal officials to contact prior to the auction.

The FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is slated to begin auctioning $20.4 billion in aid on October 22. According to agency officials, regions of the country that have been labeled as completely unserved by the FCC data will receive priority. The first $16 billion in funds will be dispersed based on current maps before officials switch to a more granular data-gathering process, reported State Scoop.

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