The federal government is making an unprecedented amount of funding available for broadband deployments but still doesn’t know where broadband is and isn’t available. And according to broadband mapping experts on a webcast yesterday, we are unlikely to have an accurate broadband map until 2023.
It’s been widely known for years that the national broadband map, based on data collected from service providers, overestimates broadband availability because an entire census block is considered to have service even if only one location in the block has broadband available.
Congress directed the FCC to fix this in the Broadband DATA Act adopted over a year ago and provided funding to do that in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 adopted in January. But the latest hang-up involves the location fabric required before service providers can report broadband availability data in the format needed.
The location fabric is intended to show the exact location, by latitude and longitude, of every location that could need broadband – and as precision agriculture gets more attention, those locations could include buildings other than homes and businesses, such as barns or other farm structures.
The FCC awarded the contract to create the location fabric to CostQuest Associates, the same company that created the cost model that underlies various Universal Service Fund initiatives, including the A-CAM and RDOF programs, explained CostQuest President and CEO Jim Stegeman on today’s webcast. But that award has come under protest.
Protesting the award is LightBox, a company that specializes in location fabrics and whose vice president of government solutions, Bill Price, was also on yesterday’s webcast, which was organized by media outlet Broadband Breakfast.
A decision on who should get the award is expected in 2022, at which point the awardee has three months to develop the fabric, according to Price. After that, service providers will need about six months to submit information about locations served, according to Stegeman.
Price and Stegeman agreed that, although the updated map could be ready in late 2022, it’s more likely to be ready in 2023.
In the Meantime
In the meantime, both Price and Stegeman advised individual states to consider creating their own broadband availability maps. Price was involved in doing exactly that for the state of Georgia. The map showed considerably more areas without broadband in comparison with the map based on FCC data.
The reason for states to consider creating their own broadband maps is that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act adopted last month includes $42.5 billion for broadband deployments, to be allocated to the states based on each state’s number of unserved locations. States may be able to challenge the amount that the federal government plans to award them if they can produce data showing that the FCC estimates of unserved locations are incorrect.