broadband availablity

FCC’s progress on improving broadband access data

Gathering and analyzing broadband accessibility data has historically been fraught with problems. For years, the data indicating which homes and building could access fixed broadband was reported by internet service providers at the census block level. The resulting maps tended to overstate actual accessibility, making it difficult for federal agencies to make informed broadband investment decisions.

To ensure more granular and precise data to inform broadband maps, Federal Communications Commission was tasked in the 2020 Broadband DATA Act to create a location fabric -- a dataset of all locations or structures in the U.S. that could be served by fixed broadband. When actual broadband deployment data is overlaid on the fabric, individual locations without broadband access will be easily identified. The FCC has already hired a data architect and met with data companies and states to identify options for building the data fabric, and a request for proposals for a product to meet FCC’s location fabric needs has also been issued.

Still, the FCC faces challenges developing a precise location fabric, according to a Sept 28 Government Accountability Office report. Stakeholders interviewed by GAO said incomplete or conflicting data will require the use of multiple sources of location data, including county parcel data, county tax data, building footprints and geocoded addresses. In state pilot programs, overlaying data from these sources has increased the accuracy of the location fabric and addresses the limitations of incomplete data – but it does increase the complexity of the work, GAO said. 

Another challenge will be limitations on the use of location data, both from commercial and governmental data sources. GAO said. Even though a public version of the data fabric is required by the Broadband DATA Act, many commercial and governmental datasets prohibit unrestricted use of their data, which may force whatever data company the FCC hires to build the fabric to negotiate licensing fees for the appropriate data rights, if it could acquire them at all, GAO said.  Even data from the Postal Service and the Census Bureau is bound by federal laws prohibiting releasing names or addresses to the public.

The report includes an appendix describing state broadband mapping efforts that could offer the FCC lessons for ensuring the accuracy and completeness of the location fabric data as well as examples of various data collection and integration methods that may help improve accuracy while holding down expenses.

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