Without accurate maps to show policy makers and the general public where broadband service exists and where it does not, it will be impossible to hold successful USF auctions or take any meaningful steps to eliminate the gap in rural broadband coverage, said a panel of witnesses appearing today before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Panelists praised the mapping order the FCC adopted in August to improve the granularity of broadband mapping but said that a lasting solution requires more federal action.
“It’s really essential to remember that granularity and accuracy are not the same thing, “said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association (pictured left). She called for standardizing the ways various ISPs report broadband data and at the same time said that there must be other safeguards beyond current self-reporting to ensure accuracy. In addition to the shapefile process the FCC adopted, NTCA joined with many organizations favoring crowdsourcing and challenge processes to augment available data.
“In addition to tracking speeds, NTCA submits the FCC should require reports specifically on the latency and the usage limits applicable to broadband services,” Bloomfield said. She pointed to telehealth and education professionals that especially rely on uninterrupted, reliable data flow.
The House currently is considering five bills with proposals to improve data collection and mapping procedures beyond the FCC’s current Form 477 survey process. Subcommittee members indicated that at least some of the bills are ready for a mark-up hearing. Bloomfield singled out one bill, the "Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act" (HR 4229 - PDF), as particularly important. She praised the bill, introduced by Representative David Loebsack (D-Iowa) and ranking subcommittee member Robert Latta (R-Ohio), for improving granularity and “calling explicitly for standard development and challenge processes to improve the data collection on both the front end and the back end.”
The subcommittee also heard from Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of the USTelecom (pictured right), who provided an update on the coalition developing “the Fabric” geospatial approach to mapping rural broadband availability. “The good news is that with the advent of new data sources and processing capabilities and the bipartisan support here in Congress and at the FCC, we can now quickly and affordably account for every single served and unserved location in that nation and deliver near 20/20 vision on the challenge before us,” he said.
Spalter and fellow panelist James Stegeman of CostQuest Associates repeated their earlier claim that the Fabric approach successfully identified the many rural broadband serviceable structures in the states of Missouri and Virginia that the FCC process missed. They also say that they could apply the Fabric to the entire nation affordably in 12 to 15 months at a cost of $8.5-11 million.