In the latest update from Voqal’s director of telecommunications strategy, Mark Colwell takes a look at the recent controversy around the accuracy of broadband maps. An excerpt from the post is below:

Closing the digital divide is an essential component of Mobile Citizen’s mission. According to the most recent data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 93.5% of Americans have access to 25/3 Mbps broadband service at home. But just 73.6% of rural Americans have access to the same service. In recent years, many individuals and organizations including Congress and even the Government Accountability Office have been highly critical of the FCC for the inaccuracy of its broadband data.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Communication Subcommittee hosted a hearing to examine how the FCC produces broadband maps. Accurately mapping where broadband is and is not available is essential because it determines where broadband subsidy funds can and cannot be distributed.

One reason for the criticism is simply how the FCC collects its data. Under FCC rules, broadband providers are responsible for submitting broadband mapping data to the FCC via Form 477. Using this form, broadband providers tell the FCC where they are offering service. If there is a single person able to subscribe within a census block area, the entire census block is considered “served” and is not eligible for broadband subsidies.

There are multiple problems with this method of broadband mapping and subsidy distribution. First, census blocks vary widely in size and population. According to the US Census Bureau, census blocks have a population between 1,200 and 8,000 residents. Census blocks vary in geographic size as well, ranging from a few city blocks to large parts of rural counties. Another problem is that stakeholders have different perspectives on broadband data collection. For instance, some have speculated that incumbent broadband providers would prefer not to face competition from a subsidized broadband competitor, giving them an incentive to make claims that the population is receiving service even if it is not.

To learn more about this issue, read the full article on the #makingairwaves blog.