The U.S. House approved Nov. 13 the Broadband Census of America Act, designed to change the way the Federal Communications Commission measures broadband penetration nationwide.
The legislation (H.R. 3919) will discontinue the FCCs current ZIP code method that counts a single broadband subscriber in a five-digit ZIP code as representing high-speed access for the entire ZIP code. Democrats have criticized the method as presenting an overly optimistic national picture of broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas.
The data obtained from the new mapping method will be used to create a national, searchable map of broadband availability. The bill also provides $300 million for grants to help deploy broadband in underserved areas of the country.
“This broadband mapping bill reflects the fact that current data collection methods used by the FCC are inadequate and highly flawed,” bill sponsor Rep. Ed Markey, D.-Mass., said in a statement. “We must have more reliable information about broadband deployment and consumer adoption as a first step in developing any comprehensive blueprint for Americas broadband future.”
The legislation is modeled after the Kentucky Connects plan, a statewide broadband mapping effort and community organizing initiative for unserved and underserved areas. The Kentucky initiative has increased the states consumer and community knowledge of where and what type of broadband is available down to a street-level degree of specificity.
Since the bill was introduced earlier this year, Markey has compromised with Republicans by no longer redefining broadband as speeds of at least 2M bps.
Republicans also rejected Markeys idea that broadband providers give the government information on prices and speed. Instead, the bill authorizes the FCC to conduct a consumer survey on what types of broadband applications and services consumers use the most.
“This bill is a vital building block to a more informed broadband policy,” Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the public advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “The FCC for too long has used antiquated measurements to give an unrealistic picture of which areas have access to needed broadband services and which do not.”
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