FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told lawmakers Thursday new agency broadband coverage maps will be ready this fall. The maps are key to NTIA’s distribution of $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure grants.
Rosenworcel and fellow Commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks and Nathan Simington testified before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. It was the first FCC oversight hearing in a year and a half, and the first since Rosenworcel was able to remove “interim” from her title.
Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH), asked Rosenworcel about the timing of the maps, noting that she told the Senate in March 2020 the agency could improve the maps within six months. Now, he said, the FCC says providers have been asked to submit their coverage information to the Commission by September 1.
“Absolutely, yes, we will have maps in the fall,” she said. Rosenworcel clarified her previous testimony concerned maps for the Rural Digital Opportunity Program, “which had problems. The last administration’s maps referred to [locations] in the Pentagon and LA Airport parking lots.”
“The best time to build better maps would have been five years ago. The second-best time is now,” she said. Rosenworcel said the agency is following the direction spelled out in the Infrastructure Law. It brought in a data systems expert to set up a broadband location fabric. But then the company chosen to create the maps was challenged, which meant no work could progress on the maps for 100 days, Inside Towers reported. The GAO recently determined the FCC’s choice was correct, she said, so now 2,500 carriers will share data with the agency beginning in June.
Rosenworcel told Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) that vendors will test the maps. Then, states, localities and Tribes will review the maps and tell the carriers and the FCC their thoughts.
Several Democrats, including full House Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) congratulated her and said they hope nominee Gigi Sohn is confirmed soon by the Senate as a fifth commissioner, given the important work the agency has yet to accomplish. “I want to begin by congratulating Chairwoman Rosenworcel again on becoming Chair of the FCC, the first woman to be named to the position on a permanent basis. It is much deserved, and the work the Commission has accomplished under your leadership has not gone unnoticed,” said Pallone.
Look for more coverage in our next issue.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief