Skip to main content

Commerce's Gina Raimondo on Broadband Billions: Maps Before Money

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing to examine expanding broadband access, focusing on the Department of Commerce broadband programs in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 1, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee oversight hearing on February 1, 2022. (Image credit: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images)

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo staked out and spelled out the Biden Administration's ambitious goal for the $65 billion infrastructure act investment in broadband, a goal that will depend on the FCC coming up with better broadband availability maps.

That came in testimony at a Senate Appropriations Commerce Subcommittee oversight hearing on all that spending.

Subcommittee chair Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) shared a common concern of both Democrats and Republicans over handing out those billions: The FCC's underwhelming maps showing where broadband currently is and isn't. She said that previous maps have not been accurate and not shown where the dead spots are, and asked Raimondo to talk about where the FCC was in updating those maps.

Raimondo agreed that the maps are vital, and, for those concerned about overbuilding, as is the ranking member of the subcommittee, Sen. Jerry Moran, (R-Kan.), she said the explicit mission "is to prioritize unserved." She said at the end of this, "shame on me" if there is a single unserved person left.

Moran, in his opening statement, said the funds should not be spent on overbuilding while some Americans lack any access.

She also said Commerce can't deploy any of the money without accurate maps. She said it was the purview of the FCC, but that Commerce was in "constant communication" with the FCC, including a personal meeting with FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel. Raimondo said that the FCC has indicated that by summer they expect to have the improved maps. Raimondo said she was at least confident they will be an improvement on the past maps, which were by census tract, because the new data drills down to the household.

"Our goal at the Commerce Department," she told the committee, "is to make certain that at the end of our work every single household, small business, farm, family, and student in America has access to affordable, reliable high-speed broadband."

She said that means giving states the flexibility to focus the funding where it is most needed.

Price and quality of broadband service have been factored into the Biden Administration's definition of where broadband is not available, which has concerned ISPs who fear it will be used to overbuild existing service rather than first focused on where broadband is not available, period.

As the former governor of Rhode Island, Raimondo said she has lived the issue and that the needs of her state are different from Kansas or New Hampshire. She signaled flexibility is the watchword of all that spending. "We do not have a one-size-fits all approach." ■

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.