Feds seek input on new national broadband map
Last month, the federal government released a draft of the first ever national broadband map, which tracks internet access throughout the United States. Now, the makers are asking for feedback from individual households to confirm whether the information shown on the maps is accurate.
The finalized draft of the map, scheduled for completion in June 2023, will be one of the primary determinants for how the federal government will distribute $42.45 billion of grant money from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The BEAD program, established by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, is intended to expand high-speed internet throughout the US by funding planning, infrastructure deployment, and adoption programs.
Since funding distribution is based on level of need, if the national broadband map is missing addresses in the state or mistakenly showing that households have access to better broadband service than they actually do, it will directly impact the amount of BEAD funding that gets allocated to Colorado.
To ensure that the map accurately represents the internet needs of each county, the makers are asking individual homeowners to challenge inaccuracies on the new digital map. The first deadline for challenges closes in just over one month, on Jan. 13, 2023, and the stakes for misrepresentation are high — potentially a difference of multiple millions of dollars in funding for state broadband development.
Scott Lingle, the director of innovation and technology for Eagle County, has been leading the county’s effort to expand high-speed internet service in unincorporated Eagle County. He said that existing Federal Communications Commission maps are based exclusively on provider data and don’t factor in realities on the ground, which has made them an unreliable source for pinpointing areas of need.
“The FCC maps have historically distorted what the actual situation is,” he said. “Existing maps make the situation look better than it is, so now, they’re trying to rectify that by producing maps that show what it actually is. Then, you can make a plan to do something about it.”
The new map shows every address as a dot and indicates service level via a green dot if the address is served or a red circle if it is not. Users can select different service speeds and technologies, and the map will adjust to show which providers, speeds, and technologies are available for each site.
Lingle said that this function alone can already help boost high-speed access and pricing just by making homeowners aware of what all of their options are.
“It’s a great tool for people to look up what supposedly is available to their address,” Lingle said. “We’ve never, ever had that nationally, so that’s very cool, and it’s a step in the right direction.”
That said, the map is still only a first draft, and feedback from communities is essential for ensuring that the picture it paints is accurate. Residents can search their address at broadbandmap.fcc.gov, where there are options for location challenges — if an address is not listed or misplaced — and availability challenges, for if the listed services are inaccurate.
In addition to individual feedback, larger entities like towns, counties, and states are able to submit bulk challenges based on existing records. The Colorado Sun reported that the Colorado Broadband Office has already challenged 13,000 inaccuracies in the map and is in the process of identifying additional missing locations and speed inaccuracies.
Lingle is still in the early stages of reviewing the results of the national broadband map for Eagle County and said he has not found any significant discrepancies as of yet. Using data from the existing Colorado Broadband Map, he has previously identified 520 unserved addresses — meaning no access to broadband internet connection — and 819 underserved addresses, meaning internet speeds are less than the statewide standard of 100/20 Mbps upload and download speeds. Whether all of these are represented in the new map remains to be confirmed.
Once federal money is allocated to the states, it will be the prerogative of each individual state to determine how the grants are distributed within their bounds. As the map’s data improves, it will likely become instrumental in this step of the process as well, furthering the importance of representing Eagle County accurately.
To check your address on the new national broadband map and issue corrections if necessary, visit broadbandmap.fcc.gov.
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