Lawmakers Approve Broadband Mapping Plan

The bill underscores concerns from Democrats over current FCC methods.

Seeking improved data about the availability and speed of broadband connections in the United States, a House subcommittee Oct. 10 approved legislation to change the Federal Communications Commissions methodology for determining deployment.

Currently, the FCC 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 state of knowledge around the status of broadband services in the United States also affects the ability of policymakers to make sound decisions," said Rep. Ed Markey, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

The Broadband Census of America Act 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.

The bill would discontinue the FCCs zip code method and require the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) to provide a comprehensive U.S. inventory of existing broadband service and infrastructure. The NTIA would also be authorized to make grants to states and local governments to assist in the data collection.

Markey said that with better data, the government could better target assistance. "The federal government can do a much better job in reforming multibillion-dollar grant and subsidy programs—whether at the Rural Utilities Service or the universal service program at the FCC," he said.

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.

Markey said further compromises could be made before the bill comes before the full House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

"We will have more work to do, especially in further refining the scope of whats considered proprietary information, which remains overly broad in my view, and with definitions and other items, but today represents a step forward," he said.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.


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