The Institute for Local Self Reliance is keeping an eye on the local, state and national policies that impact access to broadband. This week, they took a look at the FCC Maps, which will have an influence on how much federal funding each state will get. My intention is to whet your appetite enough to have you read the whole article but here are the highest level points…
This article will explore what is going wrong with the distribution of that $42.5 billion, the mapping process, and continued failure of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to show competence in the broadband arena. And it offers ways to fix these important problems as every jurisdiction from Puerto Rico to Hawaii feels overwhelmed by the challenge.
The $42.5 billion guarantees each state $100 million and a large additional sum calculated proportionally based on the number of locations in each state that don’t have adequate high-speed Internet service. States that already made significant investments in better rural networks and made strides toward fast universal Internet access for all households – like Massachusetts – will likely not receive much more than $100 million, while extremely large states with many high-cost rural residents – like Texas and California – will receive billions.
The process is faulty…
To recap – the FCC is required to allow challenges to its data because of its history of inaccurate broadband claims. The FCC created a proprietary fabric with a hasty contract with Costquest Associates, trying to tackle an extremely difficult problem on a short timeline. States had an early shot to fix errors in the fabric, but at a time when many state offices were still seeking people to work in their broadband offices. The data only became publicly available after the deadline passed to fix what could be millions of omitted or incorrect locations, at which point the FCC and NTIA encouraged people to submit challenges (during the December holidays) to fix both the fabric and the overstated claims of availability.
The maps are faulty…
In a discussion about the current mapping process, Executive Director of the Precision Ag Connectivity Act Stakeholder Alliance Garland McCoy argued that the new maps are going to be the same as the old maps (around 45 min in). The maps continue to rely primarily on claims by ISPs regarding what they advertise to locations without any pricing information.
Here are some recommendations…
To ensure the $42.5 billion finally resolves the digital divide, both the FCC and NTIA need to change course. NTIA needs to use some flexibility in the BEAD program to push some initial money out to states while waiting on final estimates from FCC maps that better reflect reality. Both agencies should seriously explore how and why the confusion and misinformation conflating availability challenges with location challenges happened. To resolve the problems identified above, we recommend the following:
- NTIA should not make final BEAD allocations using data from the current FCC data collection where only some states were able to offer fixes for their many missing locations.
- The Senate should confirm Gigi Sohn and break the FCC deadlock.
- The FCC must develop a data source about Internet access availability that reflects the actual service available to homes and businesses.
The FCC needs greater independence from the biggest cable and telecom companies.
States need to develop their own mapping capacity rather than relying solely on the FCC and to ensure they spend Internet access subsidies wisely.