FCC Finally Orders ISPs To Say Exactly Where They Offer Broadband

The FCC voted today to collect more accurate data about which parts of the U.S. have broadband and which parts lack high-speed connectivity. “From now on, home Internet providers will have to give the FCC geospatial maps of where they provide service instead of merely reporting which census blocks they offer service in,” reports Ars Technica. From the report: The FCC’s current broadband mapping system has serious limitations. The Form 477 data-collection program that requires ISPs to report census-block coverage lets an ISP count an entire census block as served even if it can serve just one home in the block. There are millions of census blocks across the US, and each one generally contains between 600 and 3,000 people. Perhaps even worse, ISPs can count a census block as served in some cases where they don’t provide any broadband in the block. That’s because the FCC tells ISPs to report where they could offer service “without an extraordinary commitment of resources.” An ISP could thus count a census block as served if it’s near its network facilities, but in practice ISPs have charged homeowners tens of thousands of dollars for line extensions.

Pai’s mapping order (full text) says it “will collect geospatial broadband coverage maps from Internet service providers,” and create a crowdsourcing system to collect public input on the accuracy of ISP-submitted maps. ISPs could still count homes that aren’t currently connected to their networks, but the FCC has tightened the criteria for doing so. ISPs may only count an area as served if the ISP “has a current broadband connection or it could provide such a connection within ten business days of a customer request and without an extraordinary commitment of resources or construction costs exceeding an ordinary service activation fee.” The new requirements are limited to fixed broadband providers, those that offer non-mobile service in homes and businesses.

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