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Broadband Mapping Inaccuracies Can Go Both Ways

Randy Sukow

In 2016, NRTC member Midwest Energy in Cassopolis, MI, participated in the FCC’s Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE) program and got $211,532 in support to provide 100 Mbps downstream/25 Mbps upstream service in 31 very remote census blocks for a total of 421 locations. But there was one problem. Midwest could only find 364 locations.

Usually when the FCC misjudges the number of households in a given area, it is due to inaccuracies in its Form 477 survey process. A USTelecom-led coalition this week estimated that the Form 477 process undercounted census blocks in the states of Missouri and Virginia by 38 percent in a pilot of advanced measuring techniques.

However, the Commission used a structure geocoding process, like one it developed for its Connect America Cost Model to determine eligible households for the RBE program. “Initially, the Commission was concerned about existing locations being ineligible for support, but at that early point in the process, little consideration was given to the model overestimating eligible locations,” Midwest said this week in a petition for a waiver of its 421-location obligation. “In the intervening years, the process has evolved and become both more accurate at the outset and the Commission developed a process for addressing the issue for the CAF Phase II reverse auction.”

Midwest says that it “aggressively built out its network” and that those previously unserved 364 locations now have access to high-speed broadband service. It asked the Commission not to reduce its financial support for the project. “The small discrepancy in available locations should not preclude it from retaining its full RBE award in light of the incredible efforts made to build broadband out to underserved and unserved areas in rural Michigan,” Midwest said.

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