A new government task force is charged with improving broadband data and mapping tools.
In her first meeting as Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, Jessica Rosenworcel said the new broadband data task force will be an agencywide effort to collect detailed data and develop more precise maps about high-speed internet availability.
“It’s no secret that the FCC’s existing broadband maps leave a lot to be desired. We can do better, and we will,” Rosenworcel said during the FCC's open meeting.
She said Congress has not only passed the Broadband Data Act but also provided the FCC with funding to complete data collection.
“It’s the first step toward better broadband policy by providing us with the information we need to reach everyone in this country with high-speed service,” she noted.
The Broadband Data Act was passed in March 2019 but for months, former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency could not move forward with implementation until Congress authorized funding. Congress did so in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law in late December.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Rosenworcel said the task force's work will be modeled off an incentive auction approach previously used by the agency.
"That last effort, this incentive auction task force was successful and it’s my hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to provide you with more information about what milestones we hope to hit as we take on the tasks in the Broadband Data Act,” she said.
Rosenworcel named Jean Kiddoo as the chair of the task force. Kiddoo currently serves as chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force. The incentive auction was authorized by Congress in 2012 as a way to “align the use of broadcast airwaves with 21st century consumer demands for video and broadband services,” according to FCC.
Kiddoo told the Commission she is greatly honored to head the broadband task force.
“The need for accurate data pinpointing where broadband service is available and perhaps more important for our FCC purposes, where it is not available, has never been greater,” Kiddoo noted.
Commissioner Brendan Carr pointed out during the meeting the timeline on getting more precise broadband maps could affect phase two of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
“Additional progress on closing the digital divide is going to potentially hinge off of a quick turn on this mapping work,” he said, referring to the RDOF program.
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RDOF is a two-phase $20.4 billion program distributing funding over 10 years to providers who meet certain criteria to provide high-speed internet. The first phase targeted areas wholly unserved by speeds of 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload.
Phase two, which has not started yet, would target census blocks that are partially served by 25/3 Mbps speeds, using more granular data to determine coverage.
The task force will coordinate across the various expert agency teams, including the Office of Economics and Analytics, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of the Managing Director.
NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield welcomed the creation of the task force and looks forward to working with FCC staff on this effort.
"Accurate data on broadband availability is essential to drive informed decision-making and appropriate distribution of funds. As the FCC undertakes the task of developing better maps in the wake of recent congressional appropriations for this effort, NTCA applauds Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel for creating the Broadband Data Task Force to lead the way," Bloomfield told Agri-Pulse.
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