FCC expects its revamped broadband maps will be ready this fall

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) anticipates its revamped, comprehensive broadband maps to be released sometime this fall, said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a House Committee hearing Thursday.

Beginning in June, providers will have three months to submit their broadband availability data to the FCC. The FCC expects around 2,500 carriers nationwide to participate in the mapping scheme, Rosenworcel said. Once initial maps are developed, the FCC will permit localities and consumers to make public comments on accuracy and areas needing improvement.

The FCC’s goal is “to build the kind of maps not just good for the moment we’re in, but that provide a framework and a structure people can use five to 10 years from now,” said Rosenworcel.

The agency has beta-tested systems with wireless broadband maps and new propagation models, she explained, to ensure it's capable of manipulating the new mapping data. CostQuest Associates, the FCC’s hand-picked vendor, is in the process of building a Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (BSLF) for the maps, Rosenworcel said.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) gave CostQuest the green light in March to begin work on the BSLF, which will provide a geo-coded set of every buildable location in the country.

Consolidated broadband mapping can help providers avoid subsidized overbuilding, said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr at the same hearing. Carr expressed concern about the U.S. Treasury’s final rules on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, which went into effect today, as they can potentially cause overbuilding, though some appropriations can be corrected at the state level.

Carr urged Congress to consider adopting legislation similar to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), to help prevent overbuilding and prioritize the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) recipients.

IIJA, passed last November, includes a prioritization scheme for areas lacking access to internet speeds of 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Such a provision, Carr said, isn't present within ARPA funding.

Agencies need to continue working together, Carr added, to ensure federally subsidized funding is evenly dispersed. “Too many parts of the country still have zero megabits per second," he said. "There’s a lot we need to do right now to improve coordination."