TR Daily Senators Suggest Adding Crowdsourced Data to Broadband Maps
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Friday, February 15, 2019

Senators Suggest Adding Crowdsourced Data to Broadband Maps

A bipartisan group of 11 senators, led by Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Jim Lankford (R., Okla.), has asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to consider adding data from consumer “speed tests” and data collected by states to the provider-supplied data that currently is used to generate the agency’s broadband maps.

In their letter to Chairman Pai dated yesterday, the senators noted the Chairman’s announcement in December of an investigation into possible violations of agency rules by one or more major carriers by submitting incorrect coverage maps for use in the challenge process for the FCC’s planned Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) reverse auction (TR Daily, Dec. 7, 2018). “While we agree that a thorough and expeditious review of these mobile broadband coverage maps is a step in the right direction, it will not solve the broader mapping problems that the Challenge Process has brought to light. In order to get an accurate snapshot of the actual broadband services — mobile and fixed — available to people on the ground, we need to have more, not fewer, data points, and a dynamic, ongoing process that allows individual consumers and outside stakeholders to validate data that broadband providers submit,” they said.

The senators suggested that the FCC could allow “the use of data from consumer initiated speed tests, including commercial data sets that take advantage of such data, to help supplement Form 477 [broadband service provider] data. Further, the FCC could look to incorporate the data from states like many of ours who have begun to take mapping into their own hands using voluntary public speed tests, drive tests and GIS software to create their own maps on a more localized and granular level.”

They added, “We are not suggesting that crowdsourced data is perfect and that it alone will be enough to fix the greater challenges with broadband mapping, but it is an important tool we should have in the toolbox. We believe the creation of a public feedback mechanism is feasible and would be a critical first step toward creating more reliable and accurate broadband maps.”

They asked for a “formal and prompt response” to questions about the FCC’s view of the “validity in using a continuous public feedback mechanism to help improve broadband coverage maps and data”; whether it is “feasible for the FCC to implement a public feedback mechanism to help validate Form 477 data”; if it is feasible, what such a process would look like; and, if it is not feasible, “what specifically can the FCC use to help supplement Form 477 data in determining where there is broadband coverage in the United States.”

Joining Sens. Manchin and Lankford in the letter were Sens. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), Angus King (I., Maine), Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), John Kennedy (R., La.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), Doug Jones (D., Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.).

Bipartisan criticism of the FCC’s broadband maps isn’t limited to Congress. During press conferences following the FCC’s meeting yesterday, Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said that he believes the maps are “lacking,” at least in part because “they are being asked to do something they weren’t originally designed to do.” Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr said that “we have to get the maps right.” Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called both the fixed and mobile broadband maps “woefully inadequate.” And Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said, “It’s so important that we get the data piece solved before we can solve the policy piece.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

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