Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Bill headed to Trump's desk would force FCC to do a better job collecting and publishing rural broadband data

A bipartisan rural broadband bill has cleared the House and Senate and is on its way to President Trump's desk. The Broadband Deployment and Technological Availability Act (styled the DATA Act, but don't confuse it with the 2014 DATA Act) is intended to provide funding for rural utilities to build out high-speed internet, Jeff Postelwait reports for T&D World, a trade publication for utilities.

The bill is more about laying the groundwork for gathering better rural broadband data than it is about funding. The Federal Communications Commission has been criticized for relying on internet service providers' self-reporting to assess rural broadband coverage. ISPs have an incentive to overstate their rural reach; it may help them qualify for federal funds. That and other issues have led to maps that could be more accurate. Though FCC data shows only 6.5 percent of the population lacks broadband access, crowdsourced data shows that the number is higher.

Under the DATA Act, the FCC would have to to create better rules to gather, monitor, verify and disseminate detailed broadband coverage data. "According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the bill also would make it illegal to provide false information to the FCC and allows cooperatives, consumers, local governments and others to challenge FCC maps with data of their own," Postelwait reports.

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