FCC Votes To Collect More Precise Broadband Data

The Federal Communications Commission Thursday voted to collect more precise data about broadband deployment from internet service providers.

The agency will now require providers to submit maps showing exactly which areas they serve within census blocks. In the past, the agency only asked providers if they offered service anywhere in a census block. The FCC also will incorporate feedback from the public in future broadband mapping efforts.

The move comes several months after the agency had to revise its broadband deployment report, due to faulty data from the company BarrierFree. The provider incorrectly reported in December 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 Free Press, which conducted its own analysis of the information provided by broadband carriers, spotted BarrierFree's error and notified the FCC.

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The FCC's original draft report -- based on the erroneous data -- concluded 19.4 million Americans lacked broadband access in 2017. After Free Press announced its findings, the FCC revised its report to state that 21.3 million Americans lacked broadband access.

Microsoft also questioned the FCC'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,” Paula Boyd, Microsoft senior director for regulatory affairs wrote in a filing submitted to the agency.

FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks agreed there was a need for better data, but dissented in part from Thursday's decision.

Rosenworcel said the agency should also collect information about pricing.

“If we want a truly accurate picture of broadband service across the country we are setting ourselves up for problems by not even asking how price and affordability plays a role. Here’s the thing: it plays a big one,” she stated. “This effort is a start, but we have a long way to go before the FCC has an honest accounting of where broadband is and is not all across the country."

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