On the Road to Better Broadband Maps?

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, November 15, 2019

Weekly Digest

On the Road to Better Broadband Maps?

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of November 11-15

Kevin Taglang

On November 14, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee held a markup session on nine bills. Of note were two bills aimed at improving broadband data collection so policymakers have a better sense of where networks reach -- or don't reach. As we reported in September, there's a general consensus that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) isn't doing a good enough job collecting broadband data. The bills passed with little debate or controversy. But how will they help?

The Notorious Form 477

The FCC began collecting subscription and connection data for broadband and telephone service using its Form 477 in 2000. Since then, this data has become the primary source for many FCC actions, including its publication of statutorily mandated reports to Congress regarding competition among certain service providers, and the availability of "advanced communications capability" (otherwise known as broadband).  The FCC has also used this data to update its universal service policies, sometimes excluding certain areas from receiving support. 

Fixed-broadband providers identify the census blocks in which their service is -- or could be -- available. As a result, if a provider could serve even a single household in a census block, the FCC has counted the entire census block as being served. In a 2018 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the FCC’s fixed broadband availability methodology overestimates broadband deployment by “counting an entire census block as served if only one location has broadband.” GAO also found the FCC data overstated deployment by “allowing providers to report availability in blocks where they do not have any infrastructure connecting homes to their networks if the providers determine they could offer service to at least one household.”

For mobile broadband service, the FCC requires providers to report their coverage areas by submitting maps depicting where consumers can expect to receive the minimum advertised services. But the FCC does not require providers to use a standardized method with defined technical parameters when determining their coverage areas. As a result, according to the FCC, its mobile broadband data cannot be compared across providers.

The Broadband DATA Act

On November 14, the Communications Subcommittee advanced, by voice vote, the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (Broadband DATA) Act (H.R. 4229). Three Republican and three Democratic cosponsors led by Rep. David Loebsack (D-IA) first introduced the bill in early September. Briefly, the bill:

  • Requires the FCC to collect granular service availability data from wired, fixed-wireless, and satellite broadband providers.
  • Requires strong parameters for service availability data collected from mobile broadband providers to ensure accuracy.
  • Asks the FCC to consider whether to collect verified coverage data from state, local, and tribal governments, as well as from other entities. 
  • Creates a challenge process for consumers, state, local, and Tribal governments, and other groups to challenge FCC maps with their own data, and requires the FCC to determine how to structure the process without making it overly burdensome on challengers.

This week, the bill was amended in the markup. Rep. Loebsack offered some technical corrections as well as new provisions to:

  • Ensure the FCC considers lessons learned from the Mobility Fund Phase II challenge process,
  • Promote public participation in the challenge process,
  • Make challenge data available in useable formats,
  • Require the FCC to evaluate the challenge process,
  • Require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct an assessment of the FCC broadband map, and
  • Authorize $25 million for the FCC to implement the Broadband DATA Act in fiscal year 2021 and $9 million for implementation in the following years. 

A similar bill (S.1822) was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Roger Wicker (MS), Gary Peters (MI) and John Thune (SD). The Senate Commerce Committee approved that bill back in July 2019; the bill awaits action on the Senate floor. S. 1822 now has 66 co-sponsors.

The MAPS Act

The second bill approved, by voice vote and without amendment, by the Communications Subcommittee is the Mapping Accuracy Promotes Services (MAPS) Act (H.R. 4227). That bill, simply, would make it unlawful for internet service providers to willfully, knowingly, or recklessly submit inaccurate coverage or quality of service information to the FCC. And the bill authorizes the FCC to penalize ISPs that provide inaccurate data. Two Democrats and three Republicans cosponsored H.R. 4227. 

On to the Full Commerce Committee

The two bills now move on to the full House Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). At the markup, Chairman Pallone said, " For the better part of a decade, this subcommittee has tried to tackle the mapping problem, and we are finally doing it now.  Their legislation, the Broadband DATA Act and the MAPS Act, will be a critical step forward in finally connecting unserved and underserved Americans in rural, suburban, and urban areas." 

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Nov 20 -- Opportunities for Rural Appalachian Ohio (Buckeye Hills Regional Council)

Nov 20 -- Building Digital Workforce Skills at the Local Level (NTIA)

Nov 21 -- Current and Future Trends in the Broadcast Radio and Television Industries (FCC)

Nov 21 -- Bring Competitive Broadband to Your City – For Free (National League of Cities)

Nov 22 -- November 2019 Open Meeting (FCC)


The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2019. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.