Broadband availability data should improve with the passage of the Broadband DATA Act. The legislation now just awaits President Trump’s signature before becoming law.

Data collected by the government until now has overstated broadband availability because an entire census block is considered to have broadband available to it even if only a single location can get service. This is important as various government programs are aimed at spurring broadband deployment in unserved areas.

The “DATA” acronym in the Broadband DATA Act stands for Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability. According to a summary from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, key provisions of the bill include:

  • Requiring the FCC to collect granular service availability data from wired, fixed wireless, and satellite broadband providers.
  • Establishing strong parameters for service availability data collected from mobile broadband providers to ensure accuracy.
  • Permitting the FCC to consider whether to collect verified coverage data from state, local, and tribal governments, as well as from other entities.
  • Creating a process for consumers; state, local, and tribal governments; and other groups to challenge FCC maps with their own data, and require the FCC to determine how to structure that process without making it overly burdensome on challengers.
  • Establishing a crowdsourcing process that allows the public to participate in data collection.
  • Strengthening enforcement against providers that knowingly or recklessly submit materially inaccurate broadband data.
  • Requiring the FCC to use the newly-created maps when making new awards of broadband funding.

Lessons Learned
The Broadband DATA Act seems to reflect lessons learned from previous broadband data collection efforts.

For example, the decision to strengthen enforcement against providers that submit inaccurate data likely stemmed from an embarrassing situation last year when a small internet service provider over-reported the number of people to whom it could provide service by about two million – a reporting error that the FCC passed through into its annual broadband progress report.

And the plan to establish strong parameters for service availability data likely stemmed from another embarrassing situation: The FCC proposed to cancel plans for a mobility fund that would have covered some of the costs of bringing LTE to unserved areas because it had no way of accurately determining target areas. Several carriers said their coverage was broader than it actually was – and a challenge process yielded similarly unreliable information.

Broadband DATA Act
I scanned the 32-page Broadband DATA Act and noted several other provisions that should be of interest to readers:

  • The act requires the FCC to establish a serviceable location fabric regarding fixed broadband – a provision that appears based on a recommendation from USTelecom, whose research showed that another problem with current broadband availability data is a lack of consistent information about address locations nationwide.
  • The act requires the FCC to establish a process through which a provider that has less than 100,000 active broadband internet access service connections may “request and receive assistance from the commission with respect to geographic information system data processing” to ensure that the provider is able to comply with reporting requirements.
  • The commission may not use Universal Service Fund money to meet requirements of the act.

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