It is more apparent than ever that broadband is no longer nice to have. It’s need to have. Yet we know that in some parts of this country finding a reliable connection to the online world is not easy. But exactly how many people face this problem? Where do they live? And what technology could work best to connect them? We need answers to these basic questions so we can close the gap between the digital haves and have nots.
To do this, we have to start with accurate broadband maps. But the ones this agency has used in the past are not up to the task. They didn’t get the job done.
So now we need to set up a new method for collecting information to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability—one that will consider input from state and local governments, Tribal nations, and consumers, supplementing information we gather from carriers. We must also develop, test, and launch IT systems to collect and verify these data. Then we will create—for the first time—a publicly accessible, data-based nationwide map of locations where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.
We have talked about doing this for years and years, but the agency failed to get it done. Congress even prodded the FCC a year ago to fix this situation with a new law—the Broadband DATA Act—and then late last year provided the funding to implement it.
In a matter of weeks we have already made progress and there’s much more going on behind the scenes:
First, in my first meeting as Acting Chairwoman, I announced the formation of the Broadband Data Task Force to coordinate and expedite the design and construction of new systems for collecting and verifying data to carry out the law and more accurately measure and reflect our broadband needs. When I assumed office, one of the first things I did was assess the status of this effort. What I learned was that we had a lot of work to do and hadn’t yet begun many of the steps required to actually build a collection system. So I made creation of the Broadband Data Task Force a priority in order to kick-start this work.
Second, we launched an effort to put the right mix of tools and talent in place. We procured an expert data architect and design firm to work with the Commission’s own data and IT systems specialists. This is important because these experts will design the complex web of databases, systems and public-facing portals that can support the new Broadband Data Collection data and the several public-facing maps we will generate.
Third, we moved quickly to issue a Request for Information to jump start the contracting process for the creation of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, a common dataset of all locations in the United States where fixed broadband internet access service can be installed. This dataset will be one of the building blocks of our data collection and will help give us an accurate and comprehensive picture of the availability of fixed broadband service throughout the country.
What’s Coming Next? This is the best part. In the coming days we’ll be launching a new tool for consumers and others interested in learning more about our mapping efforts. It will allow consumers to share their experience with the Task Force to let us know when broadband has (and has not) reached where they live. Opening communication with consumers early in this process is so important because the best broadband map won’t be built in Washington, it will be built by all of us, with input from everyone, everywhere.
Stay tuned for more progress reports as we move quickly to meet this challenge.