30 Years Late, The FCC Finally Tells ISPs To Deliver More Accurate Broadband Maps

from the lost-decades dept

The U.S. is preparing to spend $42 billion to shore up broadband access, despite not actually knowing where broadband is or isn’t available. U.S. broadband maps have stunk for decades, and we’ve spent that entire time trying to fix mediocre U.S. broadband without using real world data to actually do it.

Much of the problem was extremely basic. One, the FCC historically didn’t do a good job confirming data accuracy, which let regional monopolies overstate coverage and speeds. Two, FCC methodology declared an entire census block “served” with broadband if ISPs simply claimed they could provide service to just one home in the entire census block.

In 2019 Congress, nudged by states hungry to get their share of broadband subsidy bucks, finally passed the Broadband DATA Act. The act demanded the FCC do a better job confirming ISP claims, fix its broken methodology for mapping, and implement more robust data sources for confirmation (like crowdsourced data).

Three years later and the FCC is finally getting moving on some of this:

On March 4, the FCC released its long-awaited new instructions for how ISPs are to report broadband coverage, speeds, and customers to the FCC. The order also provides a timeline for reporting to the FCC in the new formats. The new reporting is still called the FCC 477 data filing, but the format has changed significantly.

The full technical specifications didn’t get much press coverage, but they’re still extremely meaningful if you’re sick of substandard, expensive broadband. Among other things, they require ISPs provide data on broadband coverage in much more granular detail.

There’s a few problems though. The NTIA has already started doling out subsidies from the infrastructure bill despite these new mapping improvements probably being several years away from being fully implemented. The new requirements may also be fairly onerous not only for small rural ISPs, but for the countless U.S. communities that have been forced by market failure to build their own broadband networks.

There are a whole lot of cities, states, and small U.S. towns that are busy doing their own broadband mapping thanks to federal lawmaker incompetence over the better part of a generation. That’s a tactical advantage to incumbent monopolies, which have taken to challenging these town or city grant applicants, then leaning on outdated data to claim their improvement efforts are “duplicative.”

More simply, there’s still a LOT of work left to do before the U.S. even starts accurately mapping broadband. And there’s still a lot of questions about whether the FCC, ever torn one way or another due to shifting partisan winds, will do a good job with any of this:

I’m extremely skeptical that this is going to fix the problem of ISPs overstating broadband speeds – and that’s the issue the FCC has promised will be fixed to support the BEAD grants. I guess we’ll find out some time this winter after the FCC crunches the new data.

Historically, the FCC has had an aversion to not only challenging the real reason for mediocre U.S. broadband (regional monopolization), but even acknowledging that it exists. And regional monopolies, eager to obscure anything that could result in the press, public, and policymakers getting a better view of market failure, have fought against more accurate mapping (both wired and wireless) for years.

Still, the COVID home schooling and telecommuting boom — and the infrastructure bill — finally lit a very hot and very uncomfortable fire under the FCC (and NTIA) to actually start fixing issues nearly a generation old. Even if they take years to implement, it’s still a move in the right direction.

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Comments on “30 Years Late, The FCC Finally Tells ISPs To Deliver More Accurate Broadband Maps”

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ECA says:

Lets ask

There are only a few ways to bypass them lying.
Verification. Get a list of every person that has access with FULL address and phone numbers. And start calling.
NEXT, Call Google and have them track the lines. They would LOVE to do it, for a few reasons. Rub it into the Major corps Noses. That they could know Where all The Locations STOP, and they can install. And take away all the development money away from the ISP’s.

Would love our gov taking back all the money from the contracts the ISP’s SHOULD HAVE SIGNED.

Jim Robbins says:


FCC at the top is a political organization with 5 politically appointed Commissioners with control under the President’s party. Request for better broadband data has waxed and waned depending upon parties with the Dems generally asking for better data and the Republicans taking a more hands off approach.Regardless, it’s Congress which determines what to connect and how accurately. Federal agencies are generally restricted from connecting industry wide data unless under explicit statutes.

Congress in its wisdom decides what to be done. The first national broadband map was funded by Congress with a $300M allocation across all states and commonwealths. States were free to use whatever methodology they (or their consultants) wanted. Want to guess how well that went?

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