House Communications Subcommittee Examines How to Improve FCC Deployment Monitoring Process, Reduce Digital Divide

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Juggling five pieces of proposed legislation for improving the Federal Communications Commission's broadband mapping process, the House Communications Subcommittee grilled representatives of telecommunications and public interest organization - seeking their views about ways to increase the accuracy of the FCC's mapping reports. The"Legislating to Connect America: Improving the Nation's Broadband Maps" hearing delved into new ways to identify unserved pockets within traditional survey tracts in order to reduce the "digital divide." The subcommittee also heard ideas about alternative research tools to improve the FCC's maps such as crowdsourcing of local information.

Several Congressmen cited the need for more precise data in order to allocate federal funding for broadband expansion into underserved areas as well as to help federal agencies develop their service delivery projects (such as telehealth and distance learning) via broadband networks. Several witnesses focused on the"Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act" (HR 4229), a bipartisan bill that would require the FCC to adopt rules that would balance public access to data "with adequate protections for privacy and for confidential or competitively sensitive information."

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) criticized the FCC's current mapping process, citing "the lack of clear data [which] has been a sore spot for many of us on the Committee." Chairman Doyle acknowledged that the FCC and industry stakeholders "have made significant strides to improve the quality of these maps," but he voiced continuing concern about what's missing. Full Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said, "It is not an exaggeration to say this FCC’s terrible broadband data is its Achilles heel." He cited research by CostQuest Associates (one of the witnesses) which found that up to 38 of households in the study area "might be unserved, but the FCC may count them as served." Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH) said, "Extending the reach of broadband in rural America is critical in making sure everyone can participate in the digital economy." Full Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) stressed that the legislation should focus on "how to leverage data" so that the maps are useful to federal agencies seeking to deliver services via broadband networks.

Better Broadband Mapping Needs Granularity, Crowdsourcing, Shapefiles and Location 'Fabric,' Industry Leaders Tell Congress