FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said today that he plans to ready an order to improve the broadband data gathering process in time for the Commission’s scheduled Aug. 2 meeting. The FCC has come under increasingly high pressure from members of congress, industry groups and the general public in recent months over the flaws in its broadband data, which influences universal service funding distribution as well as broadband grant and loan decisions from other federal agencies.
During a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, Pai (pictured) said the order “would result in more granular and more accurate broadband maps. That means requiring broadband providers to report where they actually offer service below the census block level and looking to incorporate public feedback into our mapping efforts.”
The current FCC Form 477 process requires broadband providers to report every six months on the areas where consumers can access broadband service down to the census block level. If one household in a census block receives broadband service, the Commission assumes it is available throughout the census block. That often is not true in rural areas.
A new process requiring reports on availability below the census block level brings the Commission closer to having home-by-home data. Experts in recent months have said such levels of granularity could be achieved using crowd sourcing, shapefile and GIS technologies. However, Pai did not specify whether providers would be required to use those technologies.
Pai also mentioned a plan to consider “public feedback” to challenge Form 477 data. The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has implemented such a process in the distribution of its ReConnect broadband grant and loan program.
“It is clear to me that short of a completely new approach to developing accurate and reliable maps, the FCC should not move forward on broadband funding decisions until it gets the maps right,” said Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) during his opening statement at today’s hearing.
Wicker also said that today he would introduce the “Broadband DATA Act,” a measure requiring the FCC “to collect more granular data about where wired, fixed wireless, and satellite broadband is available and where it is not.” Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), John Thune (R-SD), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are cosponsoring the legislation, he said.
Also, during today’s hearing, Pai said the Commission would “in the coming months … begin a rulemaking” on the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). “I’m excited about this program—it will be the FCC’s single biggest step yet to close the digital divide and will connect up to 4 million rural homes and small businesses to high-speed broadband networks,” he said in his written testimony.
The FCC announced plans to establish RDOF during an April White House event. Representatives from NRECA and NTCA recently urged the FCC to get started on RDOF implementation “as soon as possible.”