First-Rate Broadband Maps Get a Step Closer
For years now, policymakers across the country have been asking for better maps of where broadband is and isn’t available so the remaining homes can be served and the digital divide can be closed. Today marks a key milestone on the path to better broadband maps, as Internet providers are submitting broadband mapping data to the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection or BDC map. The BDC map will be the first ever national broadband map showing specific locations where broadband service is and isn’t available.
At Comcast, we’ve long supported the FCC’s efforts to produce better, more granular broadband availability maps, and last year we voluntarily provided to the Commission preliminary versions of our polygon shapefile maps for testing of the Commission’s new platform.
We’ve now submitted our broadband location data to the FCC and look forward to the first iteration of the BDC map. It is no small feat – trying to match tens of millions of locations on the FCC-provided Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric to addresses in Comcast’s systems, especially as every day we are continuing to deploy to new locations. I’d like to thank the dozens of my Comcast colleagues who have worked on this project over the past few months.
Why is the new mapping format so important?
Broadband and digital equity are foundational to modern society. Private Internet providers have spent trillions building world-class networks reaching well over 90 percent of homes with 100 Mbps or better service. Compared with pre-pandemic, Ookla tells us average fixed download speeds increased by 67%. For those in a served area, America’s broadband networks worked exceptionally well during the pandemic through to today. But there are still unserved homes that can’t take advantage of broadband which creates digital inequality.
Now Congress has appropriated $42 billion targeted primarily for broadband deployment to unserved areas to close the deployment digital divide once and for all. This is a critical need, and Congress chose to allocate funds among the states and target unserved and underserved locations with funding based on the FCC’s BDC map. Deployment funds are meant to work in tandem with Congressional funding for digital inclusion activities and implementation of digital equity programs. Without digital literacy training and technical support, those who never had broadband service available may not get the extra help they need getting started.
Other maps have attempted to show where broadband is being adopted and at what speeds. While those are important questions, those maps do not show where broadband is and isn’t available. The FCC’s BDC map is designed to do just that, because you can’t adopt service where it isn’t deployed.
While today’s submission for Internet providers is a big step in the right direction, it’s also the first step in a progression. The Commission and Congress wisely contemplated a process with multiple opportunities for the public, governments, and Internet providers to help improve the BDC map: challenges to the Location Fabric; crowdsourcing submissions; and individual consumer challenges to specific locations.
Nothing as ambitious as the BDC map will be perfect or completely error-free on day one, so an iterative input process is critical. We all – policymakers, interested third parties, and the private-sector – need to continue to work together to refine and adjust to get the most accurate BDC map possible. This is a massive effort across well over 150 million addresses, and there are bound to be some bugs in the system that will get worked out – luckily the processes are in place already to do that quickly.
The FCC is leading the charge to accomplish something we’ve all wanted for about a decade, and Congress and the FCC should be commended for getting the BDC program launched and for bringing together all the stakeholders. From webinars, to detailed data specifications, to extensive help and support pages, the Commission’s Broadband Data Task Force has done crucial work.
The BDC map will be a key tool to closing the digital divide. Locations where funding – including from state and federal programs – are being currently committed to deploy broadband to unserved areas must also be layered on as they come up so that public funds are directed to where they are needed most. And while there may be ways the map needs to adapt as we move forward, even the initial version of the BDC map to be released by the FCC in the coming months will be far superior to what we have today.
Broderick Johnson is Executive Vice President, Public Policy & Executive Vice President, Digital Equity