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Senators and Witnesses Criticize Accuracy of FCC’s New Map

According to the Subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., up to 37,000 locations in New Mexico are unaccounted for.



Screenshot of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2022 – Senators and witnesses criticized the inaccuracies in the Federal Communications Commission’s new national broadband map, although some said a robust challenge process could correct those flaws.

The comments came during a hearing held Tuesday by the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband. The FCC expected the first draft of its map – which displays location-level broadband-availability data nationwide – to be somewhat inaccurate.

The agency has continuously encouraged state and Tribal governments, service providers, individuals, and other stakeholders to challenge its data on an ongoing basis. Still, many say the map’s first draft is concerningly flawed.

“Broadband is not just a communications issue. It’s an economic issue, it’s a workforce issue, it’s a public safety issue, and it’s a healthcare issue,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., at Tuesday’s hearing. “And that’s why I’m so severely disappointed by the recent broadband map’s release by the FCC which vastly overstate[s] current coverage in rural Nevada.”

Once iteratively improved, the map will provide accurate, granular data that are far superior to the FCC’s previous census-block-level Form 477 model, many say. “The FCC’s first draft of new broadband maps is an excellent start,” said Michael Powell, CEO of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association and a former FCC chairman.

“But we will need to continually refine them and faithfully and consistently use them as an authoritative source across many programs if we want good results.”

The map’s effect on broadband funding

The map’s data will largely determine the allocation of the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, which is scheduled to be announced by June 30, 2023. To be included in the allocation process, challenges should be submitted by January 13, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has stated. Given the difficulties of the challenge processes, many state broadband officials and industry experts say January 13 is too soon for sufficient corrections to be made.

“In New Mexico, we estimate that the fabric (the FCC’s dataset of broadband serviceable locations) is missing tens of thousands of eligible serviceable locations, losing up to $500M in the funding allocation,” Kimball Sekaquaptewa, chair of the Connect New Mexico Council, told the subcommittee in a prepared statement. “We ask that NTIA extend the January 13, 2023 deadline to submit challenges to the FCC’s preliminary broadband map.”

According to the Subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., up to 37,000 locations in New Mexico are “unaccounted for” in the map. What’s more, the commission’s data appears to be in error for 138,000 locations in West Virginia, said the state’s Republican senator, Shelley Moore Capito. In response to Capito’s questioning, Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of trade group US Telecom, emphasized that an accurate map will depend on a vigorous challenge process.

“It would be a complete undermining of the law if the NTIA were to move forward with maps that had not been subject to that rigorous review process,” Spalter added.

“We really are in a crunch period,” Powell said.

However, some states are unable to fully participating in the challenge processes. One east-coast broadband official told Broadband Breakfast that although the official’s state challenged the map’s location data, it will not challenge the map’s availability data. “The juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” the official said, explaining that the state’s broadband office needed to direct its finite resources elsewhere.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Connect20 Summit: Data-Driven Approach Needed for Digital Navigation

The NTIA’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt broadband.



WASHINGTON, November 20, 2023 – Better data about broadband adoption is necessary to closing the digital divide in the U.S., a broadband expert said during a panel at the Connect20 Summit here.

Speaking on a panel about “The Power of Navigation Services,” the expert, Jessica Dine of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said states lack comprehensive data on why some residents remain offline. This information is essential for digital navigator programs to succeed, she said.

She highlighted the need for standardized national metrics on digital literacy and inclusion, and said that federal surveys – including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey – provide insights on barriers to technology adoption. But more granular data is required.

She also said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt the internet. For instance, understanding the nuances behind the ‘not interested’ response category could unveil targeted intervention strategies.

In particular, Dine praised Louisiana and Delaware for surveying communities on their connectivity needs, including overlaying socio-economic indicators with broadband deployment data. But she said more work is required to quantify the precise challenges different populations face.

Other panelists at the session, including Michelle Thornton of the State University of New York at Oswego, emphasized the importance of tracking on-the-ground efforts by navigators themselves.

Bringing in her experience from the field of healthcare navigation, Thornton underscored the value of tracking navigator activities and outcomes. She suggested a collaborative model where state-level data collection is supplemented by detailed, community-level insights from digital navigators.

The panel was part of the Connect20 Summit held in Washington and organized by Network On, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Broadband Breakfast.

The session was moderated by Comcast’s Kate Allison, executive director of research and digital equity at Comcast.

To stay involved with the Digital Navigator movement, sign up at the Connect20 Summit.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

House Subcommittee Witnesses Disagree on AI for Broadband Maps

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing Tuesday on using AI to enhance communication networks.



Screenshot of Nicole Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, at the hearing Tuesday.

WASHINGTON, November 14, 2023 – Experts disagreed on the potential for artificial intelligence to aid broadband mapping efforts at a House hearing on Tuesday.

Courtney Lang, a vice president at tech industry trade group ITI, said AI could be used to improve the quality of current broadband maps.

A machine learning model could do that by using past data to identify buildings that are likely to be accurately marked as having adequate broadband, according to Lang.

“It’s a really interesting use case,” she said.

Broadband mapping is a difficult task. The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband map is on its third version, undergoing revisions as consumers submit challenges to provider-reported broadband coverage data. The Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program requires states to administer a similar ground-truthing process before allocating any of that cash.

But Nicol Turner Lee, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation, urged caution.

“We have to be careful that we might not have enough data,” she said.

In rural parts of the country, data can be sparse and low-quality. Both factors would make machine learning ill-suited to the task of flagging potential inaccuracies, according to Lee.

She urged lawmakers to exercise restraint when using AI for “critical government functions,” like the broadband maps used to determine where federal grant money will go.

The witnesses spoke at a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on using AI to enhance American communication networks.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC is Looking to Update its Definition of Broadband

The commission would increase its standard to 100 * 20 Mbps.



Photo of a person using an internet speed test from

WASHINGTON, November 2, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is looking to increase its definition of broadband internet speed, the agency announced on Wednesday.

The current definition, set in 2015, requires speeds of 25 megabits per second – Mbps – download and 1 Mbps upload for internet service to be considered broadband, or simply high-speed internet. The agency is seeking comment on increasing that to 100 * 20 Mbps, it said in a notice of inquiry.

“During the pandemic and even before it, the needs of internet users surpassed the FCC’s 25/3 standard for broadband. This standard is not only outdated, it masks the extent to which low- income neighborhoods and rural communities are being left offline and left behind,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release.

The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, a $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort set off with the 2021 Infrastructure Act, already has a benchmark of 100 * 20 Mbps. Areas with access to speeds lower than this will be eligible to get broadband upgrades with BEAD-funded infrastructure, and those with access to anything less than 25 * 3 Mbps are given special priority.

The FCC will also take comments on setting a significantly higher long-term goal: 1 Gbps * 500 Mbps. 

In addition to revamping the commission’s speed benchmarks, the inquiry will also look to evaluate the state of broadband availability in the U.S., looking at broadband deployment, affordability, adoption, and equitable access. The commission is required to do this annually by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

It will be the first of these evaluations, the NOI notes, to use the commission’s Broadband Data Collection data. Part of the 2020 Broadband DATA Act, the BDC database has more precise information on broadband availability in the U.S., and the commission is seeking comment on how best to refresh its standards and frameworks in light of the better data.

Comments are due by December 1, with reply comments due December 18.

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