FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told 13 senators the next version of the agency’s broadband location maps will fix “most, if not all,” discrepancies.
She was responding to concerns that “significant flaws in the draft maps recently released by the FCC further underline the need for a robust challenge process,” according to a letter the lawmakers sent to Rosenworcel and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson. The senators asked the agencies for more time for state and local governments, Tribal nations, and consumers to provide input and challenge the maps. They sought at least a 60-day extension, until March 14.
The senators pointed out: “Researchers in Washington State, for example, found that 60 percent of residences and businesses in a town on Tribal lands were missing entirely from the new map. Additionally, in Stevens County, Washington, the draft maps indicate 100 percent (25/3 Mbps) broadband availability, but Microsoft’s data show that under 20 percent of the population are actually using the internet at broadband speeds.”
January 13 was a target date by which availability challenges had the best chance to be addressed and incorporated into the map, ahead of NTIA’s plan to allocate Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment funds by June 30, Rosenworcel explained. She clarified to the lawmakers that January 13 “was not a deadline because the Commission continues to accept and resolve location and availability challenges so that they may be included in future iterations of the map.” Commission rules state the agency will accept challenges on a rolling basis.
To date, the Commission has received over four million availability challenges. Many of these have already been resolved between the carrier and the challenger and will be reflected in future maps, according to the Chairwoman.
Government entities, including 20 states, submitted 1.11 million individual challenges to the initial data. Rosenworcel added that more than one million new locations have been added to version two of the data that’s available to states, government entities and license holders.
Specific to the Washington state example, Rosenworcel said: “Researchers found that a significant number of residences and businesses in a town on Tribal lands were missing entirely from the new map. My understanding from both your letter and from other sources is that these concerns relate specifically to the Spokane Reservation, which sits at the southern part of Stevens County.”
She further clarified: “Your letter notes that Microsoft’s data show that under 20 percent of the population in Stevens County, Washington are actually using the internet at broadband speeds. Both the Microsoft digital equity tool, and the FCC’s draft map indicates that 100 percent of Stevens County has broadband availability at speeds of 25/3 or greater. The 20 percent metric cited refers to the percentage of the population that uses the internet at broadband speeds.” She added the difference may be due to a lack of adoption or affordability, which is beyond the FCC’s scope for this project as directed by Congress.
The 13 senators who signed the letter to the agencies were: Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Leading GOP Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Casey (D-PA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Patty Murray (D-WA) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO).
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief