We all know the frustration of a dropped call, a video that won’t download, or an app that won’t refresh when you are trying to get the latest score or news. That frustration can be heightened when you are using your smartphone in an area where you are supposed to have mobile service. The more we rely on our smartphones, the more consumers need a clear sense of where mobile broadband service is available in their communities.
Today, the FCC is providing the public what they need with new, first-of-its-kind information on mobile wireless service coverage.
We are rolling out a new mapping tool that will empower consumers with better data on mobile broadband coverage in America. This is the first major update in a series of improvements to the agency’s publicly available resources to track where broadband coverage is and is not across the country.
Why does this map matter? This new map is a building block towards better broadband maps in the future. It serves as a public test of the standardized criteria developed to facilitate improved mapping under the Broadband DATA Act. Using standardized metrics and consumer-friendly technology and data visualization techniques, we’re able to take in data from multiple sources and create a map that is not only useful, but user-oriented. Consumers are able to input their address or another location and see with pin-point accuracy what coverage is available at that location.
The mapping tool shows where 4G LTE mobile broadband and voice services are available for each of the nation’s four largest wireless carriers: AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless. Combined, these four service providers represent the vast majority of market share for mobile wireless connections in the U.S. There are a few things notable about this tool.
These four service providers voluntarily submitted standardized data to the FCC, prepared using a common set of parameters. Now, you can easily view standardized 4G LTE network coverage data for each of these service providers in one place.
Another notable feature of this mapping tool is that you can see coverage areas for both voice and broadband 4G LTE services. The broadband coverage areas are drawn based on a minimum download and upload speed metric of five megabits per second (5 Mbps) and one megabit per second (1 Mbps), respectively. But voice calls over an LTE network typically do not require this amount of network speed. Because of this, the carriers have provided separate coverage area maps where subscribers should be expected to make and receive voice calls over the LTE network. Providing distinct maps for voice and broadband LTE service will give consumers a more accurate picture of service availability whether they are getting online or calling a friend.
How did we get here? In February, I announced the establishment of the new Broadband Data Task Force, a group of experts at the FCC dedicated to implementing long-overdue improvements to the agency’s broadband data and mapping tools.
These efforts focused largely on the need for better maps to help policymakers make more informed decisions about targeting investments to close the digital divide. I couldn’t support that effort more. But beyond helping policymakers, I chartered the Broadband Data Task Force to take a more holistic approach on ways the Commission can use data to empower consumers and how consumers can provide data to the Commission to arrive at a better understanding of broadband availability.
So what’s next? For starters, the mapping tool we release today is the first in a series of efforts to provide consumers with a better understanding of network coverage for the predominant mobile wireless technology used by most Americans. Looking long term, this map is an important step toward the FCC’s collection of robust, standardized coverage data for all mobile broadband technologies and from all service providers, and refinement of that data by leveraging consumers’ and other stakeholders’ on-the-ground experiences. While the Commission is building more accurate maps showing where fixed and mobile broadband services are and are not available using industry data, we will also establish systems and processes to validate and supplement provider-submitted data. One such effort will be a process through which consumers, state, local, and Tribal governmental entities, and other stakeholders may submit data to challenge the accuracy of the FCC’s coverage maps.
This is an exciting and important step on the path towards the comprehensive broadband availability maps Congress entrusted to the FCC. While this mapping tool is a preview of things to come, it also demonstrates the future of the consumer-facing and user-friendly tools that will help everyone—consumers, state and federal policymakers, and other stakeholders—understand where broadband is available.