Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee members Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), Brian Schatz (D., Hawai‘i), Jerry Moran (R., Kan.), and Jon Tester (D., Mont.) today introduced a bill directing the FCC to update or replace its current Form 477 service-provider reporting of broadband service areas based on Census blocks with a requirement for broadband service providers to submit shapefiles of the areas they serve — an idea advocated by NCTA.
The Broadband Data Improvement Act also would subject the shapefile data to a three-pronged validation process, according to a summary of the bill released by the sponsors. The public would be able to provide feedback “via a new feedback tool that will be integrated into the online mapping platform”; third-party commercial datasets on broadband availability would be acquired and compared with the broadband providers’ data submissions; and “targeted on-the-ground field validation of services in areas where public feedback and third-party data suggest the map is incorrect,” the summary says.
The bill would require the FCC to establish rules for a periodic challenge process in which parties could submit data challenging the national broadband map created from the data.
The bill would require federal agencies that administer programs that provide financial support for broadband buildout to consult the map “to identify areas that remain unserved and track where awarded funds have actually resulted in broadband buildout.”
The bill would authorize data processing assistance for broadband providers with no more than 100,000 broadband connections upon request, and for providers with more than 100,000 broadband connections upon a showing of need, subject to FCC review and approval.
“If we are going to make real progress when it comes to improving rural broadband access, we have to know where to focus our money and efforts. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure our coverage maps are accurate and truly reflect where our connectivity needs are, helping to finally close the digital divide in our country. I will continue working through legislative efforts like this and other initiatives like my Capito Connect program to achieve these critical goals,” Sen. Capito said.
“This legislation will help make certain the FCC is working from an accurate and up-to-date broadband map as it continues its deployment efforts in rural America. I will work in a bipartisan fashion to address the communications needs facing our country, and I encourage my colleagues to support this important legislation,” Sen. Moran said.
“[I]f we’re serious about improving desperately needed connectivity in rural areas, we first need more granular data that actually reflects who’s covered and who’s not, so resources can get where they’re needed most,” Sen. Tester said.
Sponsors said that the bill has the support of NCTA, NTCA, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Microsoft Corp., the Competitive Carriers Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council.
In a statement, NCTA said, “In order to identify and connect those Americans who do not have access to broadband internet service, we must improve the data that makes up the federal broadband map. By moving away from the current census block approach to one that utilizes shapefiles plus crowdsourcing, the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2019 would more clearly identify served and unserved areas and will put the Commission on the surest path to significant mapping improvements in the shortest timeframe. We applaud Sens. Capito, Schatz, Moran and Tester for introducing this important bipartisan legislation and look forward to working with the committee, the FCC and all stakeholders on improving our national broadband map.”
In a statement, Charter Communications Corp. said, “Charter applauds Senator Capito, Senator Schatz, Senator Moran, and Senator Tester for introducing legislation that would make national broadband mapping more accurate and granular and help close the digital divide, especially in rural areas. For policymakers and those without broadband, obtaining accurate mapping information in a timely manner is incredibly important to ensure resources go to those in most need. Senator Capito’s bill, which is informed by pilots that use shapefile methodology, will allow policymakers to quickly and cost effectively direct funds to those unserved areas that need it the most.”
Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard Cullen said, “In order to bridge the digital divide, public and private partners need access to accurate and granular data. We applaud Senators Capito, Schatz, Moran and Tester for their continued focus on developing a more complete understanding of the digital divide impacting rural families. But accurate data alone will not connect rural America. While we urge the FCC to continue working with rural champions in Congress to improve its broadband maps, it is also critical that we continue tearing down the regulatory barriers holding back TV white spaces technology and other innovative solutions that allow internet service providers to deliver broadband to rural consumers at a sustainable price.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews Congress BroadbandDeployment
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