07.11.19

Capito, Schatz, Moran, Tester Urge FCC to Improve Accuracy of Broadband Coverage Maps

Letter follows introduction of legislation laying out path to more granular mapping, including use of shapefiles, crowdsourcing verification

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Brian Schatz (D- Hawai‘i), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—all members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee—today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take specific, concrete steps to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps. Their letter to Chairman Ajit Pai encourages the FCC to look at legislative proposals introduced recently in Congress that include reforms requiring wired, fixed wireless, and satellite broadband providers to submit data like “shapefiles” that is more granular and precise to the commission.
 
“Precise, granular, and accurate data is essential to determining which parts of the country remain unserved and where to more efficiently target broadband deployment funding,” the senators write. “Improved data is essential for Congress and the Commission to identify where adequate broadband service is and is not, and how to avoid subsidizing overbuilding of existing networks.”
 
They continue, “[The proposals Congress has already introduced] would provide the FCC with an effective framework to replace its flawed census block-based system. We appreciate the FCC’s consideration of our suggestions for ways to improve its broadband data collection and reporting initiative, and look forward to working with you to close the digital divide.”
 
Senators Capito, Schatz, Moran, Tester introduced the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019 (BDIA) in May. The legislation would require broadband providers to report data to create an improved National Broadband Map that is significantly more accurate and granular, as well as subject to an ongoing and multi-faceted challenge, validation, and refinement process. Accurate and granular data will enable federal agencies to target funding to the areas the need it the most, close the remaining coverage gaps, and ensure accountability and transparency. Chairman Pai and other FCC commissioners discussed this legislation and other efforts to improve federal broadband coverage mapping at a June Commerce Committee hearing.
 
The full letter the senators sent today is available here and below.
 
Dear Chairman Pai,
 
As Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (the Commission) work together to close the digital divide, we encourage the Commission to act swiftly to fix its broadband deployment data collection and reporting process. Precise, granular, and accurate data is essential to determining which parts of the country remain unserved and where to more efficiently target broadband deployment funding. Improved data is essential for Congress and the Commission to identify where adequate broadband service is and is not available, and how to avoid subsidizing overbuilding of existing networks.
 
On June 12, 2019, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing examining policy issues and providing oversight of the Commission. At that hearing, you announced that you would present to the Commission a plan for providing more accurate broadband maps very soon. As you recognized, the Commission’s census block-based data collection and reporting can overstate coverage, especially in geographically large census blocks. This can unfairly identify unserved locations and even entire communities as being served, resulting in those places missing out on desperately needed funding support. For this reason, among others, there is a broad bipartisan consensus that the Commission should move away from its census block-based reporting process.
 
As the Commission continues to work towards a solution and takes up the proposed report and order at the Commission’s August meeting, we encourage you to look at the proposals Congress has already introduced, which include reforms that would require wired, fixed wireless and satellite broadband providers to submit data that is more granular and precise to the Commission. For instance, allowing fixed broadband providers to submit “shapefiles” would provide more detailed information about the areas they actually serve than the current census block approach.
 
Furthermore, we believe that it is critical that any proposal offered by the Commission provide consumers, state, local and tribal government entities the opportunity to challenge erroneous coverage data. Such a process will help the Commission improve the accuracy of the data it receives.  These proposals would provide the Commission with an effective framework to begin to replace its flawed census block-based system.
 
We appreciate the Commission’s consideration of our suggestions for ways to improve its broadband data collection and reporting initiative, and look forward to working with you to close the digital divide.

 

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