Under the leadership of Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today announced a new task force dedicated to improving the agency's broadband data and mapping tools.
According to Rosenworcel, the task force "will lead a cross-agency effort to collect detailed data and develop more precise maps about broadband availability." In a press release, Rosenworcel also announced the appointment of Jean Kiddoo as chair of the Broadband Data Task Force.
While the announcement is light on specific details, the need to overhaul FCC mapping is well documented. So this first step toward addressing it will be welcomed by leaders in rural communities and others that have been left out due to inaccuracies with existing data.
In conversation with Light Reading for an upcoming podcast episode of "The Divide," Judge JD Clark of Wise County, Texas, and a member of the National Association of Counties (NACo) Broadband Task Force, said that overhauling FCC mapping was high on his list of needs for addressing the digital divide in his county.
"As everyone knows, the FCC mapping is not accurate, and a lot of that is sourced from providers," said Judge Clark. "If a house in a census block has the FCC minimum standard [connectivity], that whole census block gets colored in as covered and it really hinders further provider investment in a lot of cases." Judge Clark says the FCC needs to not only rework how data is collected for these maps, but to then "follow maps up with grant funding, low-interest long-term loans, robust broadband programs for rural communities" and more.
For her part, Rosenworcel was not shy about calling out inadequate and harmful FCC mapping practices under previous agency head Ajit Pai. In a dissenting opinion last year in response to an FCC report claiming timely progress on broadband delivery (a report which Rosenworcel called "baffling"), she lamented Pai's refusal to address the mapping issue: "Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act directing the FCC to clean up its act and develop data and maps that reflect the true state of broadband access in the United States," she said. "But you'll find no evidence of that effort in this report. Instead, the FCC ignores this mandate from Congress and presses forward with data that have repeatedly been shown to be wrong."
Now at the helm of the agency, Rosenworcel can advance the mapping issue herself.
A statement announcing the task force notes that it will "closely coordinate the Commission's broadband mapping and data collection efforts across the various expert agency teams, including the Office of Economics and Analytics, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of the Managing Director" to provide consumers with access to "granular nationwide information on the availability and quality of broadband services."
Network neutrality advocates want the FCC to open a proceeding to reinstate broadband as a Title II service amid a pandemic that has amplified the need for broadband connectivity, particularly for low-income households.
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