Providing funds for broadband service is definitely a good thing, especially for underserved and rural communities lacking access to reliable internet connections.
However, there’s one significant hitch in the plans to distribute funds correctly – outdated Federal Communications Commission internet maps. It’s a problem that could mean delays in getting easily accessible broadband service to the areas where it’s actually needed.
Illustrating the Problem: the Plight of a Georgia Internet User
It’s a problem illustrated by the plight of a Georgia man who was trying to get faster internet service so his grandson could take video classes without freezing and other technical disruptions.
When the now retired fiber optics manufacturing engineer tried to opt for better service, he discovered it wasn’t available in the area where he lives. But Federal Communications Commission maps for the area said something entirely different. The maps suggested higher speed options were available in the area from T-Mobile. However, after checking the company’s website, he discovered this wasn’t the case at all.
Getting Infrastructure Dollars Where They’re Needed
The funding for broadband service is part of the funds being allocated for infrastructure needs across the country. The infrastructure-related spending package sets aside $65 billion specifically for this purpose. Approximately $40 billion from this figure is slated to go to various states to ensure broadband satellite internet service is distributed to remote and underserved areas.
Dealing with Outdated FCC Internet Service Maps
It’s not exactly a new revelation about the problem with inaccurate or outdated Federal Communications Commission maps. In fact, the map issues have been well-documented for several years.
Even the agency’s commissioner and other relevant officials have previously acknowledged that FCC internet service maps have a tendency to overestimate the availability of broadband internet service in many areas of the country.
Relying on Broad Census Info and ISP Data
Part of the reason for the inaccurate FCC maps is because the agency’s maps are based on available census data. However, census data is itself based on designated statistical areas referred to as “census blocks.” Therefore, if just one household within a census block has broadband internet, the entire statistical area is labeled as having this type of internet service access. The issue, geographically speaking, with remote areas is that it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of space between homes. The result is often an inaccurate picture of what’s actually available in certain areas.
The FCC has also been criticized for using information provided by internet service companies without confirming that the data provided is accurate. Additionally, the agency has previously faced criticism for being too quick to distribute funds without first properly assessing needs or determining if there are any issues with the accuracy of available data. In 2020, a consumer advocacy group identified a glaring oversight with funds sent to Elon Musk’s Starlink project to deliver satellite internet service to a certain area in a Philadelphia suburb determined to be in need of internet service. However, it turned out the designated road slated to be served actually had no buildings.
States Stepping Up to Fill FCC Map Gaps
Tennessee and North Carolina are among the states that have already starting creating their own maps to deal with FCC map issues, especially since it’s unclear when FCC maps will be fully corrected and updated. Georgia also released maps that identify communities, homes, and businesses lacking sufficient internet service options to improve how funds are allocated throughout the state.
Creating ‘Future Proof’ Networks
The head of an internet company trade association stresses the need to make newly created networks as “future proof” as possible. This means building in ongoing support options and allowing for the support of higher internet speeds.
The need for more reliable internet service has been even more evident since the pandemic began in early 2020. With more people, especially children needing to stay caught up on lessons, relying on the internet, the correct distribution of broadband funding is more important than ever.
What about the Georgia man with the internet service issues? He was able to receive faster internet service after exchanging a series of emails with AT&T and petitioning the FCC.