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Maps 'Impressive Leap'

CostQuest Encourages Challenges Amid FCC Release of Draft Broadband Maps

Industry and broadband experts welcomed the release Friday of the FCC’s draft broadband availability maps. Many said they plan to participate in the challenge process because NTIA is required by Congress to use the FCC’s maps for its broadband, equity, access and deployment program funding allocations.

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Today is an important milestone in our effort to help everyone, everywhere get specific information about what broadband options are available for their homes, and pinpointing places in the country where communities do not have the service they need,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. The draft maps “are a first step in a long-term effort to continuously improve our data as consumers, providers and others share information with us,” Rosenworcel said. The new map “provides the most precise assessment to date of Internet haves and have-nots,” said NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson: “This map is just a first draft, so we encourage consumers, companies, and government leaders to dive into the data and give feedback to the FCC.”

It’s “vital for states and interested parties to challenge our data,” said CostQuest CEO James Stegeman during a Broadband Breakfast event Thursday. The company created the underlying broadband serviceable location fabric for the maps. “We think we have a great product,” Stegeman said, but “we know there are gaps and we need you to fill in those gaps.”

The FCC’s new broadband maps allow users to view the services available at residential addresses, compare the wireless networks in their state, and challenge and correct the information provided by carriers, FCC staff demonstrated in an embargoed briefing Thursday morning. The maps are available to the public on an interactive website with options to search by a variety of parameters such as location, download speed and the type of technology available, such as fiber or copper. After typing in an address and searching for fixed broadband options with download speeds higher than 25/3, users will see green dots for addresses where their choices are available, and red dots where they’re not. Gray dots denote locations such as hospitals that don’t use mass market broadband, FCC staff said.

For wireless, the map lets users search by the available wireless in a geographic area. The map can show coverage of a specific technology, such as 5G, and differentiate between coverage for a stationary user or a user in a moving vehicle. The data is depicted on the website in a color-coded interactive map but can also be downloaded in CSV (comma-separated values) files for analysis, FCC staff said.

The draft maps are “an impressive leap in technology, light years beyond the previous maps built from the 477 data submitted by broadband providers,” said Wireless ISP Association Vice President-Policy Louis Peraertz. WISA members “are still going to have to kick the tires and work through the challenge processes,” Peraertz said, but the FCC’s broadband data task force and providers that filed data are “to be commended for their efforts to provide a more accurate picture of where broadband is and is not.”

Knowing exactly where broadband is and, importantly, where it is not, is critical to successfully bridging the digital divide,” said AT&T Executive Vice President-Federal Regulatory Relations Rhonda Johnson: “We know this is not a ‘one and done’ effort, and we will continue to work with the commission at each stage of this process to ensure the maps have the most accurate view of broadband availability.” Releasing the new map “is a massive undertaking, and we congratulate Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the commission on achieving this important milestone,” said USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter.

The new maps are “key to advancing broadband deployment efforts,” said Competitive Carriers Association CEO Steven Berry: It "will be a tremendous resource for policymakers in closing the digital divide and achieving ubiquitous nationwide broadband.” CCA and its members “look forward to digging into the data and participating in the challenge process as appropriate,” Berry said.

The maps also include an extensive challenge system to allow users to dispute the map’s data, which is based on submissions from carriers. If a technology listed on the map isn’t available where the map says it is, users can file detailed challenges that are reviewed by FCC staff and then sent to carriers to contact the user and resolve. The intent is for there to be a back and forth, and if the matter isn’t resolved, the FCC will adjudicate it and make a determination, FCC staff told us. Until challenges at a given location are resolved, they’re displayed on the map for users to see.

The map doesn’t allow challenges based on broadband performance, only on what broadband services are offered for a given location, FCC staff said. However, an interface allows users who believe their broadband performance is less than the plan they have purchased to file informal complaints with the agency, FCC staff said.

Determining which homes lack broadband “will enable infrastructure dollars to be targeted to unserved addresses,” said an Internet Innovation Alliance spokesperson: “Fully closing the digital divide will require public-private partnership to manage limited taxpayer dollars and develop solutions to bring broadband to the sprinkling of homes that are still disconnected.”