The most important new change is that ISPs have to produce mapping ‘polygons’ to show where they have existing customers. The ISP polygons can cover areas without current customers only where an ISP “has a current broadband connection or it could provide such a connection within ten business days of a customer request and without an extraordinary commitment of resources or construction costs exceeding an ordinary service activation fee.”
The new polygons fix one of the big flaws in the current broadband map. The polygons are going to make a noticeable difference when showing coverage for a cable company or a fiber-to-the-home network. Those networks have hard boundaries – there is always a last home served at the edge of the service area after which nobody else is covered. Today’s mapping by census block doesn’t recognize the hard boundaries of these networks and often counts customers outside these networks as having access to fast data speeds. This is particularly a problem in rural areas where a large area outside a small town might be counted as having 100 Mbps or faster broadband when there is no broadband.
Unfortunately, I don’t see the new maps making a big difference for the rest of rural America unless the ISPs providing DSL and fixed wireless service get scrupulously honest with reporting. I contend that it is difficult, and perhaps impossible to accurately map these technologies – particularly for disclosing the broadband speed available at a given customer location.
Doug goes on to point out that there are a lot of factors that go into speed – distance from the DSLAM, quality of wire, age of electronics. It isn’t an apple to apple comparison. And the ISPs aren’t looking at actual speeds, they are looking at actual or standard speeds. This is where I’ve reminded of the strategy – trust but verify. It would be nice to see some on-the-ground testing of speeds. I don’t think the onus is on the providers to make that happen.