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FCC Takes One More Step Toward Accurate Broadband Data

One day before the departure of Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission announced new rules pertaining to the collection and verification of broadband availability data.

by / January 21, 2021
Shutterstock/Jer123

Earlier this week the Federal Communications Commission outlined rules that specify how more detailed broadband coverage information will be collected from providers and how such data can be challenged by stakeholders.

The announcement, which came a day before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, has relevance for state and local entities who are aware of the FCC's notoriously inaccurate Form 477 data that was recently used to award federal money to providers for broadband expansion projects. 

The new rules list the informational items that all challenges to broadband data must include. Among other things, a state or local government must provide "the geographic coordinates (latitude/longitude) or the street addresses of the locations at which coverage is disputed" and indicate the type of dispute. 

Dispute types include but are not limited to "no actual service offering at location, provider failed to install within ten business days of valid order for service, provider denied request for service, installations attempted but unsuccessful, [and] reported speed not available for purchase."

Government challenges of FCC broadband data will be submitted through an online portal. The new rules also establish a process for providers to respond to challenges. Under this framework, providers will have 60 days to reply to a challenge. If a provider disputes a challenge, there will be another 60-day period in which the provider and governmental entity can "attempt to resolve the challenge."

Ajit Pai, whose last day as FCC chair was yesterday, released a statement saying that "the rules are in place to begin the process of developing the IT infrastructure to begin collecting these new coverage maps that will finally show us, with unprecedented precision, where broadband is available and where it isn’t."

Pai also defended Form 477 data in his statement, citing the data's role in the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction. 

"And as far as last hurrahs go, the Form 477’s was a good one," Pai said. "Using the census block-level broadband availability data it provides, we were able to identify the least-served parts of the country — nearly 800,000 census blocks that no one was willing to serve without federal support."

In a separate statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, who became the acting FCC chair today by Biden's order, underlined the long wait for better broadband data. 

"It was almost a year ago that Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act telling the FCC to update its data collection practices and improve its maps," Rosenworcel said. "It was almost a month ago that Congress provided the FCC with funding to carry out this task. Now it is vitally important that we get this effort started. While I recognize that this decision may not be perfect, it is the beginning of building a better foundation for our nation’s broadband policy."

Several states have produced their own broadband maps and surveys because of the FCC's shortcomings in data collection. 


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