NCTA Pitches FCC on 3-Step Method for Improved Broadband Mapping

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association has proposed a three-step method for improving the broadband availability data the FCC uses to direct broadband subsidy money, and it involves polygon shapefiles. Yes, polygon shapefiles.

NCTA says using that "nontopological" format for storing location information would provide more accurate data than the current census block reporting, which can overstate coverage. NCTA also says that the FCC could use third parties to collect the data from providers, particularly smaller operators who might not have the wherewithal to convert their data to the files.

That is according to a meeting among a top staffer to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and executives from NCTA members Cox, Comcast, Charter and GCI.

The FCC is collecting comment on ways to collect better (form 477) data on fixed and mobile broadband availability. It has been under the gun to get a better handle on where broadband is and isn't, since that determines whether it is closing the digital divide generally, the rural digital divide in particular, and whether it is deploying advanced communications in a reasonable and timely manner, which the FCC recently concluded is the case.

The cable trade group took aim at proposals to use address-based reporting, as some have proposed. It said that would require a costly and time consuming exercise in creating a database of every address in the country before that data could be collected. It says shapefile reporting, by contrast, could be achieved fairly quickly, as early as next year. Using the shapefiles is step one of the FCC's proposal. 

Step two is for the FCC to use crowdsourcing to backstop the reported data. Taking a page, and a quote, from Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, they told Pai special counsel Preston Wise that "it is time for the Commission to 'use the wisdom of the crowd to get our maps right.'" NCTA says that after the FCC released maps under the shapefile-based reporting, anyone could challenge them, with the FCC forwarding that challenge to the provider(s), who could correct their next 477 submission if necessary. 

Step three is to focus on pinpointing unserved areas, which the shapefiles will help do. NCTA says an address-based reporting system would be an "unnecessary and wasteful" way to gather location info.

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.