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The FCC yesterday adopted additional rules for the Digital Opportunity Data Collection with the goal of gaining more accurate broadband availability data. It’s an important move, as several planned government broadband funding initiatives will not move forward until more accurate data, and the maps they generate, has been gathered.

The report and order adopted yesterday but not yet released publicly includes rules specifying which service providers must report availability and/or coverage data. The order also sets up a process for challenging the data provided.

In addition, the report and order include requirements for reporting speed and latency for fixed technologies and require fixed broadband providers to report whether services are offered to residential and/or business customers. Mobile providers will be required to submit either infrastructure information or on-the-ground test data to confirm reported speeds and coverage.

Digital Opportunity Data Collection

The FCC for years has gathered information from service providers about fixed and mobile broadband services offered, but that information has been widely criticized. A key concern is that the data isn’t granular enough. It assumes an entire census block can get service even if only a single location has service available to it.

On the mobile side, the FCC has found major inaccuracies in coverage data provided by the carriers – so much so that the commission scrapped plans for a mobility fund that would have targeted rural areas lacking service.

The commission now plans a 5G Mobility Fund program that will not get off the ground until more accurate data is available.

On the fixed side, the lack of accurate broadband availability data drove the FCC decision to split the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund broadband funding auction into two separate phases. The first phase, completed last year, awarded funding for census blocks totally lacking broadband. The second phase will target partially served census blocks but will not occur until data from the Digital Opportunity Data Collection is available.

Plans for the Digital Opportunity Data Collection were made months ago but the FCC could not move ahead because it lacked funding. That funding finally came in the COVID-19 economic relief legislation that recently became law.

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