FCC broadband map updates amass industry approval

Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a second iteration of its national broadband map, industry players have praised the expeditious effort to improve the map’s accuracy just in time for federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding allocations to be made.

Last year the FCC developed its first location-based broadband map, which FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said was “light years better than preceding maps because it no longer relied on census block-level reporting.”

New updates to that map now reflect coverage data submitted by providers as of December 31, 2022 in addition to about 4 million challenges from consumers, states, localities and Tribes. USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter in a statement called the updates to the map a “massive undertaking” on the part of the FCC, adding that the data contained in this version of the map will "no doubt be an important tool to reach 100% connectivity and close the digital divide."

The National Telecommunications and Information Association (NTIA) will use the latest version of the map to decide each state’s allocation from the $42.5 billion BEAD program at the end of this month.

A WISPA spokesperson told Fierce that the FCC’s new mapping tools and challenge procedure help provide more “granularity” than the 477 process alone, which requires providers to file data with the FCC twice a year.

“It isn’t real-time, but the depth and transparency of the mapping will guide sound policy and action which will maximize limited taxpayer support and minimize waste such as needless overbuilding,” the WISPA rep said.  

The FCC makes incremental (yet important) progress

It seems the industry is mostly in agreement that the improvements to the FCC’s data will help the map become a source of truth for a nationwide broadband expansion initiative.

"These maps will provide a roadmap for all entities including state broadband offices and providers to use to build out networks so they can quickly deploy broadband and bridge the digital divide," Incompas CEO Chip Pickering told Fierce.

For example, ACA Connects has developed a BEAD cost allocation and deployment framework as a resource for States and territories, which it will update again based on the data in this new map version, according to an ACA spokesperson.

“The clear intent of Congress is for the FCC maps to be the definitive source for identifying unserved and underserved locations, including within the BEAD program,” the ACA rep told Fierce. “We agree with both the FCC and the NTIA that this new-and-improved map ‘is the most accurate depiction of broadband availability in the FCC’s history,’ and that the maps continue to improve iteratively with each version, as Congress intended in the Broadband DATA Act.”

Pickering acknowledged that the FCC and the NTIA have made "great progress since the first version of the map and have worked with state broadband offices and ISPs to ensure challenges were properly logged to make the maps as accurate as possible.”

But he also pointed out that refining the national broadband map is just the first step to actual deployments.

To address overbuilding concerns further, Incompas "supports" the FCC creating a layer on the map that shows which geographic areas and locations are receiving broadband funding for network deployment to unserved and underserved locations.

“We believe this step potentially would address any concern that the various funding programs for deployment be coordinated to better ensure they are not duplicative, and lend further insight into areas that lack adequate network deployment and still need funding,” he explained.

“As with any map, it will always be an iterative process, however we must ensure that we don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good and hold up deployment."