Today I had the honor and privilege to represent NTCA’s members before the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s hearing on mapping, “Legislating to Connect America: Improving the Nation’s Broadband maps.” Mapping is the new hottest topic here in Washington as policymakers recognize that a major challenge associated with making informed policy and investment decisions regarding the deployment of broadband in rural America is determining where there is or is not service already – which is why today’s hearing was so important.
The current FCC maps are flawed and even the FCC acknowledged this with their move last month to adopt an Order that will move away from the overly broad use of census blocks for reporting broadband coverage and instead now will require providers to submit much better “shape files” showing where they actually do offer broadband services.
I shared with the committee that while this movement offers great promise in getting more granular broadband maps, it is essential to remember that granularity and accuracy are not the same thing! A few key steps will be needed moving forward.
First – we need a standardization of reporting. Making sure everyone reports apples to apples. Specific technical standards should be established and simply reporting advertised speeds across a wide swath of rural America is not sufficient. The FCC should also require reports on the latency and usage limits as well and the critical role they play in the consumer experience. But even with efforts up front to improve mapping inputs, the data is still self-reported and we need backend validation procedures to ensure that the process has integrity. These could include “crowdsourcing” – as long as it is done in a way to provide value and detect noteworthy trends – like a heatmap – rather than creating confusion or additional burdens.
Perhaps the most critical validation step would be having the FCC utilize a robust challenge process anytime that it is preparing to make significant funding or other policy decisions. This process would allow both providers and policymakers to do one last “sanity check” on the accuracy of the maps before decisions are reached.
Improve maps on the front end and validate on the back end. American consumers deserve the integrity of that process.
It was encouraging to see the large number of Members of Congress who not only showed up for the hearing but stayed for the duration (which became nearly a 3 hour marathon…my stomach started growling!). Good questions were asked and there was clearly a passion in the room for finding better, faster ways to get broadband deployed to the parts of the country that truly need it. It is also heartening to see both the FCC and Congress – both on a bipartisan basis moving in the same direction to make great strides in reducing the digital divide in rural America. But the job is far from done and better broadband maps can play a key role in making sure that we both build broadband where it is lacking and sustain broadband where it exists today.
I remain hopeful.