For as long as people have been talking about the digital divide, there have been complaints that we lack detailed maps to tell us exactly where broadband is—and is not—available. This has been a constant source of frustration for policymakers trying to deploy resources to build broadband in more places as well as consumers, who knew with greater accuracy than Washington about their what broadband service was available where they lived or worked.
Congress took up this challenge in March 2020 when it passed the Broadband DATA Act instructing the FCC to create a publicly accessible, data-based nationwide map of where fixed and mobile broadband is truly available throughout the United States. After Congress gave the Commission funding in December 2020 to implement the Broadband DATA Act, one of the very first actions I took as Acting FCC Chairwoman was to assess the status of this effort. This review made clear that the FCC had an enormous amount of work to do to prepare, develop, and support the systems required for compliance with the law and its objectives.
Over the past 18 months, we’ve been doing that work and making a lot of progress. I wanted to give people a brief of the latest key developments.
- Today, we opened our new system to collect information from over 2,500 broadband providers on precisely where they provide broadband services.
Why it matters: This marks the beginning of our window to collect location-by-location data from providers that we will use to build the map.
- We’ve built the framework for a common dataset of locations in the United States where fixed broadband service can be installed.
Why it matters: This new location dataset, called the “Fabric,” will serve as the foundation upon which all fixed broadband availability data will be reported and overlaid in our new broadband availability maps.
- We’ve established consistent parameters that require broadband providers to submit data on availability using individually geocoded locations.
Why it matters: Geocoded data will allow us to create a highly precise picture of fixed broadband deployment, unlike previous data collections, which focused on census blocks, giving us inaccurate, incomplete maps.
- The FCC has launched a new online help center, with dedicated staff providing technical assistance, online video tutorials and webinars explaining the data submission process, and resources for consumers, internet service providers, states, localities, and Tribes seeking assistance with submissions.
Why it matters: Our broadband maps are only as good as the data we collect, and this support will help make sure the Commission gets the data we need, the way we need it.
- Our maps are built to improve. We are making the maps accessible to challenges by states, Tribal and local entities, and consumers.
Why it matters: Earlier broadband maps relied exclusively on data collected from broadband providers, leaving key stakeholders without an easy mechanism to challenge and improve maps that were missing data or mischaracterized broadband coverage. The best map is one that improves over time with everyone’s experiences baked in.
Bottom Line: For too long, our broadband maps have been a patchwork with information gaps that impeded the ability of policymakers to assure that critical funding efforts could be precisely targeted to deploying broadband facilities to consumers and communities most in need. The new Broadband Data Collection will tie together data from multiple sources to give us an accurate, detailed, and evolving picture of broadband availability that is much needed and long overdue.