Thursday, February 13, 2020

States trying to create their own more accurate broadband coverage maps to better access rural funding

State agencies, frustrated with inaccurate federal broadband maps, are trying to create their own in an attempt to ensure more access to rural broadband funding, Andrea Noble reports for Route Fifty.

The Federal Communications Commission publishes a map of broadband reach, but it relies on self-reported data by internet providers who sometimes overstate their rural reach in order to qualify for funding. Also, a census block is considered "covered" as long as at least one household has broadband access. One organization, BroadbandNowmanually checked 11,000 addresses the FCC said had broadband, and found that 19 percent didn't. "While the FCC estimates that 21 million Americans, or 6.5% of the population, lack access to broadband, the BroadbandNow report put that total closer to 42 million Americans," Noble reports.

Billions of dollars in state and federal rural broadband funding hinge on the FCC map, but the agency has no immediate plans to upgrade its mapping capabilities. "FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said a detailed mapping analysis would instead be conducted in the second phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund," Noble reports.

So, some states are trying to augment the map with their own data, sometimes obtained directly from service providers, some even from door-to-door surveys. States that find more data can submit it to the FCC when applying for a grant to challenge the FCC version, Noble reports.

Jeff Sural, director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, said it's critical to get better data because "there is so much money on the table," he told Noble. "We want to make sure North Carolina gets its fair share and we think the current approach does not address the granularity needed to adequately distribute these funds."

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