Lawmakers Complain FCC’s New Broadband Maps Are Still Inaccurate Post-Form 477

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Last Updated: Jan 26, 2023
A wooden map of some states with an American flag button connected to orange strings
The FCC pivoted away from Form 477 data because of broadband mapping inaccuracies. The alternative hasn’t proven to be better. (Image: Shutterstock)

In November 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched its long-anticipated broadband map that outlined internet service access by address across all 50 states. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NITA) will use revised versions of that map to determine which states will be awarded their share of $42.45 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD) funding. Once that money is deployed to the neediest states, it will be disseminated to local internet service providers (ISPs) to finance telecommunications infrastructure.

The problem is, these maps are far from accurate, even though efforts were deployed to update their accuracy after previous maps gathered solely through Form 477 misled the public. If the FCC’s maps aren’t updated rapidly, many states and territories that struggle for fast, reliable internet access, or access at all, will be further left behind.

Why Are There Gaps in the Maps?

There are gaps in the FCC’s broadband map in two key ways. The historical method to gather data and create broadband maps was through Form 477. This form had to be submitted to the FCC twice per year from ISPs to alert them about which census tracts they provided services in. However, a pivotal problem emerged from the data: Internet access for many addresses was determined via reported service to only one household.

Let’s say that 10 years ago you lived on a city block and none of your neighbors had internet access, but your home did. Based on Form 477 reporting, your whole block would have been marked as having internet access by an ISP, even though that would’ve been both misleading and also incorrect. Citing these concerns, the FCC shifted away from Form 477’s heavy dependence on census tracts and pivoted to a cocktail of geospatial mapping and consumer feedback as its primary data collection tools.

Even with these data collection updates, there are still significant gaps in the FCC’s maps from urban to rural communities across the country. Challenges to the FCC map were open until Jan. 13. From there, revised maps that reflect these challenges will determine which states score hefty BEAD grants by June 30, 2023.

The second reason for the gaps in the FCC maps is because of state-specific contracts with data vendors. If states have contracts with third-party vendors that hold sensitive information about user data, state representatives would be breaking their contracts by filing challenges to the FCC on behalf of those addresses.

The responsibility has fallen onto consumers to self-report and ensure that their own address is appropriately represented on the FCC’s latest broadband map.

State Responses

A light post with the American flag as a banner
A flurry of states across America have filed challenges to the FCC’s broadband maps to fight for their share of BEAD money. (Image: Shutterstock)

Challenges from states on their FCC map accuracy have been staggering. Nevada found 20,000 locations in their state map that overstate ISP coverage by quality or access. Vermont found 60,000 inaccurately listed locations. New York state found over 30,000 discrepancies. West Virginia submitted complaints on 138,000 underserved homes, with another 40,000 slated as of Dec. 21, 2022. By Jan. 12 of this year, over 350,000 complaints had been filed from states across the nation to the FCC on the inaccuracies in their maps.

If broadband mapping is not accurate down to the very last address for each and every state, communities that are in the most desperate need of broadband infrastructure funds could be missing out on their share of deserved BEAD funding. No one can say how dramatically that lack of investment can and will impact their futures.

Our Take

In May 2022, BroadbandNow Research manually checked internet accessibility for more than 11,000 addresses. Based on that study, it was estimated that 42 million Americans, or 13 percent of the population, have no access to an internet provider at their home address. That was nearly double the amount of the 21.3 million Americans that the FCC identified as lacking internet service in their 2019 Broadband Deployment Report. In short, lawmakers ringing the alarm and filing challenges across the nation are correct — the deviations they’re noticing in their communities from FCC maps are supported by BroadbandNow Research estimates.

BroadbandNow stands behind the fact that the only way to generate the most accurate broadband mapping is from individual, address-based checks from ISPs. That is the sole method to comprehensively generate accurate data on service locations and internet quality. It shouldn’t be dependent on inaccurate census tract data, or, worse, you as the end consumer to verify it yourself.