How does the Federal government – poised to pour billions of dollars of congressionally-approved funding into an effort to bring broadband services to unserved and underserved areas of the U.S. – know where to direct those precious resources from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act?
The short answer is the government doesn’t have all the data to make those decisions, but it will in relatively short order with a lot of help from internet service providers and the guiding hand of the Federal Communications Commission, which is charged with overseeing efforts to make up-to-date broadband service maps that span the United States.
In other words, the Feds need to know where broadband service is robust, and where it’s not.
To help find the data to make those decisions, the FCC has launched an online help center to assist internet service providers and other filers of verified broadband availability data in preparation for the inaugural Broadband Data Collection (BDC) filing window opening on June 30, 2022.
“These new filer resources help pave the way for the FCC to begin accepting more precise and accurate availability data through the [BDC],” Jean Kiddoo, chair of the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force, said in a press release.
Government efforts to narrow the digital divide in the U.S. have enjoyed bipartisan support on the Federal level – with the broadband push being a high priority both with the Biden administration, and with members of Congress whose states stand to benefit. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized six different grants and programs to help with the effort, with a total price tag of about $60 billion.
The key to spending that money effectively lies in gaining an accurate understanding of what areas of the U.S. are unserved or underserved, and that’s where the new mapping effort – and the FCC’s reach-out to internet service providers with assistance – comes in.
Prior iterations of FCC broadband mapping have come under criticism for inaccuracies. In March 2020, Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act to help fix that problem.
The law requires the FCC to create maps showing the availability of fixed and mobile broadband services across the country and identify areas that are unserved and underserved. It also requires the FCC to use more granular and precise data to develop these maps. Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, Congress provided the FCC with $98 million to complete that effort.
“Our new help center and support materials will help service providers and other filers of broadband availability data navigate the new filing requirements ahead of the opening of the filing window and will ensure that filers can hit the ground running on June 30,” Kiddoo said.
The new video tutorials explain the information and supporting data that filers of biannual fixed and mobile broadband availability data must submit in the new BDC system.
The help center also includes technical information on how to prepare availability data and subscription data for filing in the BDC and an option for requesting additional support.
All facilities-based providers of fixed and mobile broadband internet access services must submit broadband availability data through the Broadband Data Collection no later than September 1, 2022.