FCC Launches New Broadband Map

The new broadband mantra may be "measure twice, deploy once."

The FCC Thursday (Feb. 22) unveiled a new national broadband map that will provide more detailed and updated info on fixed broadband deployment. ISPs have long been concerned that without more accurate info, they could be overbuilt in an effort to deploy where service already exists.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration launched the map seven years ago as part of its oversight of broadband stimulus money, but the FCC took it over in 2015 when that oversight expired.

The map has been updated from the last data set (June 2014) and has new interactive features. The data in the "new map" is as of December 2016. The map identifies the providers by technology and upload and download speeds.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau called it the best publicly available picture of broadband coverage, thanks in part to FCC collaboration with commercial cloud-based vendors.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that the map was a good step forward--"you can't manage problems you can't measure," she said--but had some serious shortcomings.

One of those was not including mobile broadband. "I think it does the country a disservice to have a National Broadband Map with only half the picture," she said. "It is disappointing if our efforts end here with fixed technologies. In other words, we still have work to do."

Second, she said, was that the map has errors. "How do I know?," she asked. "I looked up my house and can tell you with good authority it lists services that are not available at my location." She suggested crowdsourcing to help improve the map, and where services others find are not available on the map. She said slicing and dicing data in a conference room is not necessarily an accurate picture of what is happening "on the ground." She said that could create a "citizen's" broadband map.

 An FCC bureau official said that it was looking into crowdsourcing map accuracy, but that was not yet part of the map.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn warned that a glitzy new map with bad data is like "lipstick on a pig."

FCC chair Ajit Pai said the map was an incredible tool for policymakers and Americans interested in the topic. "It is a first step, but a pretty darn good first step.

The map's features include:

• "Fixed deployment data based on the latest collection by the FCC and updated twice annually

• "Deployment summaries available for seven different geographical types: nation, state, county, congressional district, city or town (census place), Tribal area, and Core -based Statistical Area (such as New York-Newark-Jersey City NY-NJ-PA)

• "Broadband availability and provider counts in each of the nation’s over 11 million census blocks, available for six technologies (fiber, DSL, cable, satellite, fixed wireless, and other) as well as seven speeds, for a total of 441 combinations

• "Provider summary information available for 1,782 providers by technology, eight download speed tiers, and nine upload speed tiers

• "Deployment comparisons between geographic areas

• 'A portal for data downloads

• 'Satellite imagery map overlay that shows buildings, roads, and geography

• 'Graphs that show what fraction of an area’s population has access to broadband at a given speed."

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.