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The following press release was issued on Sen. Shelley Capito's website on May 16, 2019 

Bipartisan legislation would lead to more granular mapping, help close digital divide in rural America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Brian Schatz (D- Hawai‘i), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—all members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee—today introduced the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA), legislation to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband buildout. The bipartisan bill would require broadband providers to report data in a way that more accurately reflects locations they actually serve—a change from current reporting requirements. This would create a new, improved National Broadband Map that is significantly more accurate and granular, as well as subject to an ongoing and multi-faceted challenge, validation, and refinement process.

“Broadband and connectivity are essential to nearly every aspect of our lives today—education, health care, business—but too many rural communities in West Virginia and other states across the country are being left behind,” Senator Capito said. “If we are going to make real progress when it comes to improving rural broadband access, we have to know where to focus our money and efforts. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure our coverage maps are accurate and truly reflect where our connectivity needs are, helping to finally close the digital divide in our country. I will continue working through legislative efforts like this and other initiatives like my Capito Connect program to achieve these critical goals.”

“Many Americans can’t access the internet, because they live in an area without fast and reliable broadband. But we can’t fix the problem if we don’t fully understand where it’s happening.  The broadband data and maps we have today fall short,” said Senator Schatz, ranking member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. “Our bill will give the FCC and Congress information needed to fully understand the coverage gaps and then close them.”

“In order for rural Kansas to compete in today’s digital economy, we need effective, efficient and reliable broadband,” Senator Moran said. “This legislation will help make certain the FCC is working from an accurate and up-to-date broadband map as it continues its deployment efforts in rural America. I will work in a bipartisan fashion to address the communications needs facing our country, and I encourage my colleagues to support this important legislation.”

“In rural America, one farm could have access to broadband while their neighbors down the road remain in the dark. But if you look at these maps, they say both farms are covered,” Senator Tester said. “So, if we’re serious about improving desperately needed connectivity in rural areas, we first need more granular data that actually reflects who’s covered and who’s not, so resources can get where they’re needed most.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are charged with allocating billions of dollars each year to ensure that broadband coverage gaps are closed. However, there is broad bipartisan consensus that the data the FCC collects is not sufficiently accurate or granular to pinpoint these gaps or guide decision-making on where funds should be directed to support broadband buildout.

The Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019 (BDIA) would require broadband providers to report data to create an improved National Broadband Map that is significantly more accurate and granular, as well as subject to an ongoing and multi-faceted challenge, validation, and refinement process. Accurate and granular data will enable federal agencies to target funding to the areas the need it the most, close the remaining coverage gaps, and ensure accountability and transparency.

The legislation is supported by a broad range of groups and organizations, including NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Microsoft Corporation, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council. Statements of support are available here.

Building on the many lessons learned from past state and federal data collection and mapping efforts, the Broadband Data Improvement Actwould comprehensively improve the National Broadband Map in the following key ways:

  • Granular Service Availability Data – Requires broadband providers to report service availability by submitting GIS shapefiles that indicate actual network coverage, completely updating or replacing the current Form 477 process.

  • Three-pronged Data Validation Process –

    • The collection of public feedback regarding the accuracy of the map, obtained via a new feedback tool that will be integrated into the online mapping platform.

    • The acquisition of third-party commercial datasets on broadband availability that are analyzed and compared against provider-reported data.

    • Targeted on-the-ground field validation of services in areas where public feedback and third-party data suggest the map is incorrect.

  • Periodic Challenge Process – Requires the establishment of an ongoing, efficient, and scheduled process by which the public and broadband service providers may challenge the map, and through which the FCC analyzes and resolves any challenges to update the map accordingly.

  • Federal Funding Programs Guidance and Broadband Investments Tracking – Requires the National Broadband Map to be utilized by federal agencies to identify areas that remain unserved and track where awarded funds have actually resulted in broadband buildout.

  • Data Submission Assistance to Small Providers – Minimizes the burden on smaller service providers that may not have GIS capabilities by providing data submission assistance to ensure the information they report is as accurate as possible.

More information on the Broadband Data Improvement Act is available here.

Legislative text is available here.

This legislation is the latest in a series of efforts Senator Capito has led to improve access to affordable, high-speed internet and better connect communities across the country. Through her Capito Connect program and committee assignments, she has been involved with numerous solutions at the congressional level to promote and encourage the collection of accurate data to improve coverage maps. Additional information on her most recent efforts is available here.

As a co-chair and founder of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator Capito also hosted an event earlier this week that explored the challenges and opportunities related to broadband mapping.

Click here to read the original release.

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