Apr 20, 2023
The Mapping Dilemma: How Can States Ensure They Get The Best ‘Bang For Their Buck’?
MCA continues to grapple with mapping misalignments from the FCC and it relates to BEAD funding.
Since its initial release last year, the FCC National Broadband Map has faced criticism from a variety of fronts, with complaints ranging from missing locations to doubts about the accuracy of the broadband availability data.
Most recently, a number of senators have proposed legislation to ‘fix’ the maps that would add 7 months to the challenge process for states and other parties.
However, once states receive their allocated money from the $42.5 billion, they will need to come up with a strategy for distributing funds to relevant recipients in order to get the best ‘bang for their buck’. The accuracy of the data used for this is critical to ensure that the fewest possible underserved locations are overlooked.
The severity of the issue is increased by doubts about the accuracy of the FCC’s National Broadband Map, which has been called into question as a reliable tool for this next phase in the BEAD timeline.
In response, several states have created their own broadband availability maps to complement or improve upon the FCC’s data. Some examples of state maps include:
California Interactive Broadband Map
Minnesota Broadband Mapping Project
North Carolina Broadband Map
Virginia Broadband Availability Map
Indiana Broadband Mapping Project
Ohio Residential Broadband Availability Map
Colorado Broadband Map
New York State Broadband Map
South Carolina Digital Drive Map
These states have recognized the importance of accurate broadband availability data and have developed maps to better inform decision-making related to broadband infrastructure and investment.
Maine is another state that has developed its own broadband availability map. In an interview with Telecompetitor, Andrew Butcher, President of the Maine Connectivity Authority, stated “If we have data that is more granular and in theory more accurate than just the FCC data, we can structure a challenge process around that data and our policies.”
The Speed Data Challenge
Another significant challenge is the lack of a mechanism to challenge location data where an internet service provider (ISP) claims to provide service, but the actual speeds fall short of what is advertised and shown on the federal map. As a result, consumers and other stakeholders have limited recourse to challenge inaccurate data reported by ISPs.
In a past webinar, Evan Feinman, the director of the NTIA’s Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, pointed out that states have the opportunity to address shortcomings such as inaccurate speeds in the FCC National Broadband Map themselves.
Feinman explained that “communities will be able to bring forward large numbers of speed tests” which could help address concerns about the accuracy of service provider-reported availability data.
Through the use of broadband speed tests and the collection of internal data, states can identify these inaccuracies to improve the coverage data and plan their network expansion accordingly.
The upcoming phase of the BEAD timeline will force states to decide whether or not they will use the FCC’s national map or their own mapping data for distributing broadband funds -or a mix of both. This decision will have major implications for resource allocation and the effectiveness of broadband development in underserved communities.
States have some time to decide on which mapping option to pursue since it’s unlikely that any allocations from the states will occur before 2024. It is crucial that states carefully evaluate the strengths and limitations of each option to make the best decision for their constituents’ long-term benefit.
Read more about how ATS can help your local maps before the next round of BEAD.