To Serve or not to Serve: The Broadband Map Question | Citizens Against Government Waste

To Serve or not to Serve: The Broadband Map Question

The WasteWatcher

Providing broadband access for unserved or underserved households has long been an objective of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Congress, internet service providers, and consumer and taxpayer advocates.  This goal is best obtained if those who are providing access know the location of these households.  And that depends on having the most updated and accurate broadband maps.

On June 17, 2021, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released new broadband maps that are supposed to show broadband deployment across the country.  While this is the first map issued by the government that shows as unserved certain rural locations that were previously listed in the FCC’s maps from 2014 as served by two or more providers, it is still flawed.  It is also not the map for which Congress allocated $98 million to the FCC in the Broadband DATA Act.

A significant failure of the NTIA’s new map is that it focuses solely on fixed broadband services.  There are no plans to update the map to include any other form of access to the internet.  This narrow view of broadband deployment ignores mobile fixed wireless, satellite, TV white space, and wireless providers.  Fixed broadband services are also not necessarily the most cost-effective or efficient means to connect rural or mountainous communities.  There are already complaints that the data used by NTIA in developing these maps is inadequate and does not reflect the constantly evolving nature of broadband deployment. 

CAGW strongly encouraged waiting for the results of the FCC’s maps before issuing additional funding for broadband deployment in its Critical Waste Issues for the 117th Congress, noting that “Broadband mapping across the country has been hit or miss at best over the past decade.  Maps have indicated a lack of service where it was widely available, and widespread service where it was unserved or underserved.  This created a disparity in the distribution of federal funds for broadband deployment.  Knowing where the holes in broadband deployment are located through improved mapping will help allocate the funding more accurately.”

Rather than moving full speed ahead to push additional funding out the door for more broadband deployment in the upcoming infrastructure package, especially based on the flawed NTIA maps, Congress should hold tight to those purse strings and ensure that any funding that has already been allocated, including the tens of billions of dollars available in the American Rescue Plan Act, is directed toward those who are truly unserved or in need, based on the FCC maps.