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GOP Pushes FCC's Rosenworcel for Better Broadband Maps

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel
FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel (Image credit: FCC)

Senate and House Republican leaders are pressuring FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to improve FCC broadband mapping ASAP after saying they got an answer from staff on the progress of that effort that did not sit well with them.

Also Read: FCC to Vote on Rural Broadband Funding Framework

In a letter to Rosenworcel a copy of which was supplied to Multichannel News, that pressure was applied by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee; John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee; and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Bob Latta (R-Ohio), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee.

The FCC has been under pressure to come up with better data on where broadband is and isn't, particularly since it is handing out billions of dollars supposedly based on where the need for connectivity is greatest. 

The letter said that 1) it has been a year since Wicker's Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act had passed, which mandated the better data collection; and that 2) Rosenworcel has repeatedly told Congrss--back before she was acting chair--that the FCC could radically improve maps "within 3-6 months," and in "just a few" months.

Imagine their surprise, they said, "when your staff recently suggested the new maps would not be ready until 2022."

They said such a delay, particularly during a pandemic, is troubling given that she has also said that the FCC should reduce the (billions of dollars) in funding for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) until the FCC can come up with better data ("maps before money and data before deployment" has been a Rosenworcel mantra. 

They said the delay in maps could delay the COVID-19 stimulus programs (https://www.nexttv.com/news/fcc-seeks-help-handing-out-billions-in-covid-19-broadband-aid), which will be giving out as much as $20 billion for broadband deployment and use.

The Republicans want a quarterly briefing from the FCC on the status of new maps, plus this information by March 22:

1. "Detailed information on why your estimated timeline for completing new maps has changed from three-to-six months to at least one year.

2. "A detailed timeline for the development of new maps.

Any steps you plan to take to expedite the timeline for completing new maps.

3. "Detailed information on whether the contracting process required by statute will affect the timeline for completing the first new map. Please also provide the anticipated dates for completing the contracting process and development of the IT platforms for the collected data.

4. "A detailed breakdown of how the FCC plans to spend the $98 million Congress provided for the development of new maps.     

5. "Detailed information on whether the revised timeline will delay planned subsidy disbursements, including the 5G Fund and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase II Auction.    

6. "A detailed plan for how the Commission plans to incorporate its biannual data collections in a timely manner to ensure broadband maps remain up-to-date over time.

7. "Detailed information on how the FCC, as required by law, is coordinating with the NTIA and using NTIA’s National Broadband Availability Map to inform the Commission’s broadband mapping efforts. Please include information on the FCC’s actions to coordinate with NTIA on their Broadband Infrastructure Program, and the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program."

Last month, Rosenworcel created a Broadband Data Task Force to implement "long-overdue" improvements to the commission's broadband mapping and data collection.

“We are reviewing the letter," said an FCC spokesperspon. "Improving the FCC’s broadband maps is a priority for the Acting Chairwoman.  For several years now there’s been discussion about making these improvements. At her very first meeting she took action by convening the Broadband Data Task Force to expedite the design of new systems for collecting and verifying data so we can more accurately measure broadband availability across the nation.”