Senators Debut Bill to Boost Broadband Map Accuracy

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A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on June 12 in a move to improve the accuracy of the Federal government’s broadband availability maps. The legislation, dubbed the Broadband DATA Act, was introduced by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss. and committee members Gary Peters, D-Mich., John Thune, R-S.D., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

The bill:

  • “Requires the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] to collect granular service availability data from wired, fixed wireless, and satellite broadband providers;
  • Requires strong parameters for service availability data collected from mobile broadband providers to ensure accuracy;
  • Asks the FCC to consider whether to collect verified coverage data from state, local, and tribal governments, as well as from other entities.
  • Creates a process for consumers, state, local, and tribal governments, and other groups to challenge FCC maps with their own data, and requires the FCC to determine how to structure the process without making it overly burdensome on challengers.”

Announcement of the bill came during the Commerce committee’s hearing on June 12 focused on oversight of the FCC. During the hearing, Wicker told FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai that until the FCC has accurate broadband access data the Commission should not “move ahead” on any more broadband funding.

Pai countered Wicker’s suggestion by announcing he was in the process of disseminating a Report and Order for a vote at the FCC’s August meeting, and said they would provide the Commission with more granular and accurate maps. He also noted that the FCC was looking to incorporate public feedback into its mapping process, something that has been publicly called for in the past.

The Broadband DATA Act was widely praised by broadband industry groups and telecommunication companies.

“Improving broadband availability maps is essential for rural, community-based broadband providers to continue the mission of closing the digital divide,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. “The Broadband DATA Act, introduced today by Sens. Roger Wicker, Gary Peters, John Thune, and Amy Klobuchar, makes meaningful reforms to our Federal mapping systems.”

David Bartlett, CenturyLink vice president of Federal government affairs, also praised the legislation, “A comprehensive, nationwide broadband map can help close the digital divide by providing policymakers with the granular, geocoded data they need to identify locations where broadband service is lacking, so we can make the most of limited government funding.”

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