“Last Saturday marked what would have been the seven-year anniversary since the 2011 release of the National Broadband Map, a tool aimed at assisting policymakers and consumers that has been dormant since 2014. Fittingly this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unveiled a resurrected broadband mapping tool with updated residential broadband data and enhanced features and functions aimed at improving ease-of-use. While this new mapping platform itself represents a step in the right direction, it falls woefully short in addressing the fundamental problems that confront today’s infrastructure debate and any attempt to effectively and economically bridge the American Digital Divide: data quality and granularity. Simply put, the map’s underlying Form 477 data is detrimental to the usefulness of any mapping application. Everything else is a secondary concern.
Policymakers could have a shot at finally closing the Digital Divide if they were guided in their efforts by a sufficiently granular broadband map that depicts service availability at the street address or land parcel level of detail. Today, the FCC continues the problematic use of census blocks as the unit of measure for reporting, and thus knowingly accepts the well-established and inherent overstatement and understatement that such reporting yields. This is costing citizens and communities who find themselves on the wrong side of the Digital Divide tens, and possibly hundreds, of millions of dollars in USF support that should be more precisely targeted to the areas that truly need them.
Under the current census block methodology, if even one household in a given block is served, the entire block is marked as having service. In rural areas, these blocks can be extremely large, increasing the likelihood of overstatement of service in the very areas that need help the most. There are more than 3,200 census blocks that are larger than the entire District of Columbia (68 square miles in area) and 5 blocks that are larger than the entire state of Connecticut (5,567 square miles in area). Secondly, broadband providers that do not have GIS (geographic information system) capabilities are not able to visualize the spreadsheet-based file of census block IDs being filed through Form 477 to ensure accuracy, resulting in overstated and/or understated coverage reporting. Thirdly, some providers are simply missing from the Form 477 dataset. Lastly, fixed wireless coverage is also reported as full census blocks, instead of service areas developed from propagation modeling, as was produced during NTIA’s State Broadband Initiative program (2010-2014).
Only when more accurate and granular broadband coverage can be collected and verified through a process of provider engagement, crowdsourced information, and field validation can any national broadband map truly be the robust and meaningful application that is sorely needed to ensure that all Americans can connect. Everyone belongs in a Connected Nation.”
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