FCC Plans To Improve Broadband Maps

The Federal Communications Commission's notoriously problematic reports about broadband availability could soon become more accurate.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that he plans to circulate a report and order that would require Internet access providers to provide more granular information. Pai says he expects the agency to vote on his proposal in August.

The agency's current broadband maps rely on reports submitted by Internet access providers, who list the census blocks in which they provide service.

Pai says his proposal will require providers to report “where they actually offer service, below the census block level.”

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He also says the proposal involves incorporating public feedback into the mapping effort.

Earlier this year, the FCC had to revise its deployment map after the advocacy group Free Press noted an error that resulted in a significant overstatement.

Free Press conducted its own analysis of the data, and found that the provider BarrierFree erroneously reported in December of 2017 that it offered fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless service at speeds of nearly 1 GB to census blocks containing almost 62 million people. 

The advocacy group found that report suspect, given that BarrierFree said earlier in 2017 that it served zero census blocks.

The FCC's original draft report concluded that 19.4 million Americans lacked broadband access in 2017. But after Free Press announced its findings, the FCC revised its report to state that 21.3 million Americans lacked broadband access.

Free Press wasn't the only one criticizing the FCC's reports. Microsoft also questioned the agency's methodology, as well as its conclusions.

In a March filing, the company said its observations conflict with the data in the FCC's report.

“In some areas the Commission's broadband availability data suggests that Internet service providers ... have reported significant broadband availability (25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up) while Microsoft’s usage data indicates that only a small percentage of consumers actually access the Internet at broadband speeds in those areas,” Microsoft Senior Director For Regulatory Affairs Paula Boyd wrote in a filing submitted to the agency.

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