The Van Trump Report

Why Rural Americans Should Weigh In on New FCC Broadband Maps

It has been over two decades since broadband started replacing dial-up internet connections. While broadband has since become a virtual necessity in our modern age, wide swaths of the US still don’t have access to high-speed internet. Until recently, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has collected limited information on broadband coverage from internet providers, which can obscure the true availability in some parts of the country. Now, the agency is taking important steps to provide a more accurate picture the country’s coverage – and its true cost – and they are asking for the public’s help.

One of the most highly anticipated moves by the FCC to remove barriers to high-speed internet access includes updates to the National Broadband Map. The latest iteration includes what the FCC says is the most detailed information it has ever collected from internet service providers (ISPs).

The FCC’s previous broadband maps used what’s known as “census block” data, meaning that if a single home was served in a census block, the whole block would show up as served on the maps. The result was maps that the FCC called “overly optimistic” and which effectively glossed over gaps in coverage. FCC says the new maps integrate information from broadband providers with hundreds of location-specific data sources, giving a far more detailed and accurate picture of fixed broadband availability    

The new, more detailed maps are just a rough draft, though. To ensure the maps are accurate, the FCC is putting them through a challenge phase. Individuals who see that the information on the maps does not match up with what they know from their lived experience will be able to submit challenges or request corrections, directly through the map interface. FCC will also accept bulk challenges to the reported availability data from state, Tribal, and local governments and other stakeholders who see problems we need to correct in multiple locations.

Users can search their residential or business to view which fixed and mobile providers service that area. The resulting ISP list displays a given provider’s purported upload and download speeds as of June 30, 2022. If a user notices a discrepancy between what’s listed on the map and what’s actually available, they can challenge that list item. The FCC says this step is vital to building a useful and constantly improving map. You can view the National Broadband Map HERE

All challenges that are submitted will be reviewed by FCC staff and then passed on to the relevant ISP for a response. The operators can then either concede or rebut the challenge. In the latter case, the ISP will reach out directly to the challenger to try to resolve the issue. But if a resolution can’t be reached, the FCC will step in to decide whether the challenge should be upheld or dismissed.

In addition to the new maps, the FCC has also devised “broadband nutrition labels,” which require ISPs to “display easy-to-understand labels to allow consumers to comparison shop for broadband services.” These details will then be displayed in a format that is modeled on nutrition labels found on food packaging. The nutrition labels will be included on monthly bills, “the most visible place that consumers interact with their provider” according to the FCC.

The idea is to make the relevant service and pricing information easy to understand and readily available in one place. Numerous studies have outlined the ways in which internet service in the US is overpriced and lacks transparency. Last year, Free Press published a study on the spiraling cost of broadband, finding internet bills were increasing at more than four times the inflation rate. Consumer Reports found that nearly six in 10 people across the country encountered unexpected or hidden telecom fees that caused them to exceed their household budgets

The label, which Congress directed the FCC to create as part of the 2021 infrastructure law, has been pending before the FCC since January. The FCC plans to announce the effective date of the label after it has completed the necessary next steps, including requirements under the Paperwork Reduction Act. More information is available at FCC. (Sources: FCC, ExtremeTech, Engaget)

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