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The FCC Has Released Its Broadband Map — but Work Is Far from Over

In anticipation of the FCC releasing its new nationwide broadband maps today, Government Technology spoke with several industry experts to better understand how these maps will work and some of the challenges still ahead.

A screenshot of the FCC’s new broadband availability map showing connected locations in various shades of blue.
Image courtesy of the FCC (screenshot)
Earlier today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its pre-production draft of its new broadband maps, providing more in-depth information about availability nationwide.

The new maps will serve as a basis for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to allocate $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) grants to states and territories next summer.

The maps work using geolocation data to show two separate data sets: a “broadband serviceable location fabric” and “provider-submitted service availability data.”

The broadband serviceable location fabric showcases individual homes and businesses that use broadband service, while provider-submitted service availability data showcases where Internet service providers (ISPs) offer broadband service.

All users have to do is enter an address into the new broadband map to see who is connected around it, or they can view data by state, further filtering information to show fixed broadband, mobile broadband or combined data.

Users can dispute reported coverage as part of a challenge process in two ways. First, through a location challenge which asks users for supporting documents and their information to verify that a location has been incorrectly identified on the map, either service-wise or location-wise. And second, through an availability challenge, which allows users to challenge if a provider is actually servicing a particular location.


The concept of broadband mapping comes from the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which asked the FCC to collect broadband availability data semi-annually. The agency then launched its Form 477 process to collect data on broadband deployment and telephone services from providers to decipher which companies qualify for funding to serve different areas.

As you might expect, this process tracked broadband data at the census tract level, which resulted in many residents and businesses being inaccurately represented. For example, one connected household in a census tract would cause the entire tract to be identified as served.

However, as technology continued to advance, so did the need for more accurate broadband mapping, and the resultant pieces of legislation aimed at increasing such efforts.

In March 2020, Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act requesting the FCC create a publicly accessible, data-based nationwide map of where fixed and mobile broadband is available throughout the country.

In June 2022, the FCC asked industry, state, local and tribal government entities and consumers to submit data by Sept. 1, 2022, to file data to improve the accuracy of existing maps.

Now, two months after that September deadline, the FCC’s new maps have been revealed with this new data.


While the new maps are being welcomed as an obvious improvement over the old way of tracking broadband service, there are still some hurdles to overcome.

“This is a great step forward because we’re going to actually start seeing the granular part of location maps,” said Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. “The challenge, however, is really finding out how accurate the information is.”

“Obviously, service providers are motivated to say everything’s covered so that nothing gets funded in their territories, and then you have consumers who now have a chance to weigh in, so it’s going to be a little bit of a complex process,” he added.

Another concern industry experts have is the limited amount of time to challenge the FCC’s new maps. Currently, the FCC has asked for all map challenges to be submitted by Jan. 13 so that the commission can create a final version of the map to allocate federal funding by June 30.

“Even if I go in this weekend and start challenging things, there’s no guarantee that the map gets updated quickly enough, and that’s just for the fabric challenges,” said Dustin Loup, program manager for the National Broadband Mapping Coalition. “The availability challenges are more difficult, especially since they don’t accept speed tests, which are particularly important when it comes to DSL or fixed wireless connections.”

Another concern is that the FCC will not be accepting speed test data when forming the final version of its broadband map. Instead, the new maps will rely on advertised speeds provided by ISPs, which does not accurately represent the service residents and businesses are receiving.

Another concern is individuals not having enough guidance and information to submit challenges properly.

Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities, said challenges will require specificity to be accepted.

“It’s not enough for you to say the data is wrong. It has to be wrong, then you have to verify it’s wrong, and then someone from the FCC has to go back and verify your work before they undo whatever is crippling you,” Ochillo noted.

Even proving this at the state level is going to be difficult, according to Myles Smith, executive director of the Maine Broadband Coalition, who noted that certain parts of the state population numbers are low — in the double or triple digits — to the point that counties are the only available form of government.

“You can’t expect a town of 100 people or 200 people to be able to understand and interpret this data and use this new software system,” he added.

As a result, Smith anticipates that local organizations will have to step up to help different communities compile and submit this data to the FCC.

Some of the more populous states, like New York and Colorado, have already issued broadband map challenges.

In Colorado’s case, the state’s broadband office has already submitted 11,000 challenges to the location data in the FCC’s Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric and is preparing to participate in the availability challenge process.

“We plan to utilize our data to identify areas in Colorado that may have inaccurately reported data and then identify the necessary evidence to support each challenge,” a spokesperson from the Colorado Broadband Office (CBO) said via email. “While CBO has the ability to submit ‘bulk’ challenges based on our data, the availability challenge process will rely heavily on individuals submitting challenges for their locations.”

As for what happens next, only time will tell as individuals, states, territories, ISPs and other relevant groups start submitting data to form these maps.
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.