A federal lawmaker Wednesday blasted the Federal Communications Commission over its “terrible” data about broadband deployment.
“It's not an exaggeration, in my opinion, to say this FCC's terrible broadband data is its Achilles heel,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) said at the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology's three-hour hearing about broadband data.
“Without good maps, we can't correctly determine how we should target funding for adoption and access in rural and urban areas,” Pallone said. “Without good maps, we don't have enough detail to assess competition or review mergers.”
The lawmaker's comments come as the House is considering five different bills aimed at improving broadband maps. Most of the bills include provisions aimed at improving the FCC's methodology for gathering information about internet connections. For instance, the proposed “Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability” (H.R. 4229), introduced last Friday,includes provisions requiring the FCC to establish a process to verify data about broadband availability.
Last month, the FCC voted to require internet service 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 said it will incorporate feedback from the public in future broadband mapping efforts.
Earlier this year, an error by the access provider BarrierFree caused the agency to overstate the availability of broadband.
The advocacy group Free Press uncovered the error, after which the FCC revised its annual report. The agency initially reported that 19.4 million Americans lacked broadband in 2017, but revisted that figure to 21.3 million after becoming aware of BarrierFree's error.
Free Press, which testified at Wednesday's hearing, told lawmakers that improving broadband mapping efforts won't in itself result in universal adoption.
Policy manager Dana Floberg said in written testimony that factors including price and a lack of competition also play a role in the “digital divide” between people with and without broadband service.
“Better maps will help policymakers more effectively target public investments to improve broadband deployment, and that is important, but even the best maps would be insufficient on their own to bridge this divide,” she stated. “Much has been said about the importance of getting the best data in order to solve the deployment problem, and rightly so -- but the Commission currently collects virtually zero useful data regarding broadband prices or affordability. These are not separate problems.”