The FCC is beginning to resolve an incorrect method of measuring Internet access


As the pandemic rages on, the FCC has taken its first steps to revamp its heavily criticized system of counting the number of U.S. households without access to vital high-speed internet access.

During a Federal Communications Commission meeting Wednesday, Acting Chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel announced the formation of the Broadband Data Task Force to create an accurate map of broadband access. At least seven FCC departments will be involved.

An accurate map of Internet access is extremely important. One of the FCC’s priorities is to close the “digital divide” by increasing Internet access in low-income and rural communities. The problem has come to the fore during the pandemic as students and workers rely on remote learning and work. Without an accurate map to shed light on the problem, it is difficult to implement a solution.

In 2018, independent organizations and news outlets began shedding light on the discrepancy between the FCC’s cards for internet access and whether or not people could really get online. It turned out that the gap between theoretical approach and reality was large. Internet service providers gave their card details to the FCC, but the FCC did not verify its accuracy. The FCC’s own methods made these loopholes possible. ISPs believed an entire zip code was covered when accessing a house on the census block (as highlighted by The Verge).

After sustained criticism, Congress passed legislation calling on the FCC to address its mapping problems. Congress funded the ability to respond to that mandate, but not until the Second Coronavirus Stimulation Act was passed in late December 2020, allocating $ 98 million to the mapping effort.

Task force chair Jean Kiddoo said at the meeting on Wednesday that the task force was working on requests for proposals for the initiative and declined to give a timeframe for the project to complete. Her next estimate was some time in 2022.

However, there are already signs that the new broadband card will be better. It will have multiple sources of data including crowdsourcing information and a “challenge process to identify and address vendor data”.

A slide from the FCC on Wednesday about the data sources for their new broadband card.

The FCC under the Trump administration has been known to be cozy with ISPs. Whether Biden’s FCC will be able to pull the gears of government enough to hold them accountable remains to be seen.

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