The FCC Is Asking the Right Questions to Make Mapping Better to Increase Broadband Availability
Washington, DC, September 23, 2019 – Helping broadband become universally accessible requires more than just money and will to construct new and better facilities. It requires sound, granular and accurate data to guide those resources to the right places – areas that truly lack broadband or are underserved. For years, policymakers have been driving blind, attempting to bridge the digital divide with, at best, unreliable and opaque mapping data. To rectify the myriad shortcomings within the current broadband mapping process, the FCC has proposed to change how, what and where it collects broadband availability data through its Digital Opportunity Data Collection Report and Order (R&O) and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
“The way we map where broadband is plays an exceedingly important role in getting all Americans on the Internet,” said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA. “In the R&O, the Commission is asking the right questions and looking for the best tools to ensure its Universal Service Fund (USF) dollars can better bridge the stubborn digital divide.”
WISPA and its partners in the Broadband Mapping Coalition (BMC) have long been engaged in helping policymakers know where broadband is to get the most out of USF support. In July, the BMC finished a mapping pilot program, creating a granular, scalable, national Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (BSLF, or Fabric), which will make location-based data collection hyper-accurate, ultimately boosting broadband access for Americans.
“We support the adoption, implementation and ongoing maintenance of the Fabric as the new gold standard for fixed broadband data collection…and appreciate the Commission’s proposal” to integrate the Fabric into the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, says BMC members WISPA, USTelecom and ITTA in joint comments filed today before the FCC on the R&O. “Using the BSLF methodology, including a managed visual review process, will produce a highly reliable and accurate initial set of locations…a ‘living dataset’ that would be revised at least annually,” notes the comments. The joint commenters support the use of polygons on top of the Fabric to avoid creation of two different datasets or processes, with potentially conflicting or confusing metrics.
Among other things, the comments also caution against requiring the collection of latency data, stating that the “costs and complexities of including it as part of this data collection would far outweigh any conceivable benefit.” And, with an eye to update and streamline data collection efforts for smaller providers, the joint commenters support sunsetting Form 477, but only after the public, providers, the Commission and USAC staff have a sufficient opportunity to transition to the new reporting and challenge process.
In a parallel filing made by WISPA today, the association notes its strong support for the creation of “safe harbors” for fixed wireless broadband data reporting, one specifically geared to the technology and the spectrum band being used. The two-prong process – which allows providers to use parameters that deviate from standard ones if there are material differences in their networks – would “address the Commission’s expressed desire to avoid undue burdens on smaller fixed wireless providers,” avoiding the default application of international propagation standards, which can be especially burdensome to small rural providers.
“By all accounts, our present broadband mapping system is broken,” said Aiken. “This has had a profound effect on unserved and underserved communities, oftentimes thwarting broadband deployment where it’s needed the most. Integrating the Fabric and other changes urged here can change that. Further, they’ll help other programs, such as the $20 billion Rural Development Opportunity Fund, reduce wasteful overbuilding and target resources to where they really need to go. We applaud the Commission for its work here and stand ready to help the agency refine its proposal so all Americans, no matter where they live, can get online.”
WISPA’s approximately 800 members are composed of fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and the industry that supports fixed wireless broadband, including equipment suppliers, support services, and other components needed to run a successful business. Our members, and WISPs, in general, provide broadband access to over 4 million residential and business customers, often in exclusively rural areas.