Today, the FCC is taking another step forward in its iterative effort to develop the best and most accurate broadband maps ever built in the United States. This is a big one.
To understand why requires a bit of history. For decades, the Commission produced broadband maps based on census blocks. In practice, this meant that if there was high-speed internet service in a single location in a census block, the agency assumed there was service throughout the area. Needless to say, this methodology left a lot to be desired. It overstated service nationwide. It also provided a less than accurate picture of unserved communities because it lacked the kind of granular data policymakers need if they want to address the digital divide.
It was time to do things differently. So in November 2022, the FCC developed its first location-based broadband map using new legal and technical tools to help it paint an accurate picture of where broadband is and is not available across the United States. This new map was light years better than preceding maps because it no longer relied on census block-level reporting. Instead, it identified every household and small business in the country that should have access to high-speed internet service. For context on how much more granular this is than what came before, in our current mapping effort the Commission identified over 114 million locations where fixed broadband could be installed compared to data from just 8.1 million census blocks in our prior maps.
Even though the November 2022 broadband map was the most accurate to date, it was also only a starting point. We called it a pre-production draft, because it had not been subjected to challenges from consumers, states, localities, Tribes and other stakeholders. These challenges have been in full swing over the past several months and are an important part of the process of building better and iterative maps under the Broadband DATA Act.
The map we are releasing today reflects these challenges, as well as other improvements to the data we have been making since we launched our first public effort last year. It has a lot of updated information about both locations and availability.
We’ve learned a lot over the past few months, and there’s even more to learn from the new National Broadband Map itself. Here are a few key takeaways:
- More than 8.3 million U.S. homes and businesses lack access to high-speed broadband. If we want everyone, everywhere to have access to high-speed internet service, we will need to deploy broadband service to 8.3 million new locations. On net, the improvements to the map since November helped to identify nearly 330,000 more unserved locations.
- Our challenge processes are powerful tools to improve accuracy. Stakeholders have stepped up to provide lots of information and challenges to our data. Our mapping team has reviewed challenges to availability data for more than 4 million locations. Over 75% of those challenges have already been resolved and the majority have led to updates in the data on the map showing where broadband is available. At the same time, the new map also reflects a net increase of more than one million new serviceable locations, as compared to the November 2022 pre-production draft.
- Collaboration is key. Our mapping team met individually with representatives from every state at least once, and, in total, hosted over 200 individual sessions with state, local, and Tribal governments. These discussions were crucial to helping all stakeholders understand what we were showing on the map, how to submit—and respond to—challenges, and how this first-of-its-kind map could be improved. We also responded to more than 7,600 technical assistance requests from internet providers and challengers.
- We’re using all the data quality tools at our disposal. Beyond the challenge process, the FCC has built automated checks into the new system to validate submissions from internet providers. FCC staff have also begun to use the verification and enforcement tools available to ensure accurate availability filings, initiating over 800 verification inquiries thus far. More stringent verification resulted in updates to over 600 submissions from providers and a clearer picture of broadband availability in every state and territory.
- Our maps are continuously becoming more accurate, and will only continue to improve. The Commission has a duty under the law to develop these maps in an iterative fashion. We are going to continue to release a major update twice a year, which overlays availability data from providers onto the tens of millions of serviceable locations. In addition to those major bi-annual updates, we have been making minor updates to the availability data in the map regularly for most of 2023. These incremental updates reflect both challenge outcomes and any corrections providers make to their filings. We will continue to accept challenges every day, every week and every month, and those challenges will continue to improve the map.
Today’s release was made possible by the Commission’s incredible mapping team. I am truly grateful for their work. They have not only given policymakers an improved tool to help close the country’s digital divide, they also affirmed that the Broadband DATA Act is working as intended. Best of all, they have shown us that that our National Broadband Map will only get better and better.