As the FCC kicks off an investigation into whether major mobile carriers submitted inaccurate data for the agency’s wireless broadband map, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the situation presents an opportunity to retool how coverage maps are filled.
“This investigation is a welcome development, but I’ll be blunt: we have a mess on our hands,” Rosenworcel said speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts broadband mapping event Dec. 11.
The mobile broadband map was created to help the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II project, which is set to distribute more than $4.5 billion in funds over the next 10 years to promote wireless deployment in underserved and rural areas. The initial map, used to help the agency determine which areas need funds, relied on coverage data supplied by major carriers.
However, following a review of more than 20 million speed tests conducted across 37 states and filed with the FCC as part of the MF-II challenge process, the agency suspended the next step in the proceeding in order to investigate, saying the review suggested “significant violations” of the Commission’s rules.
“My top priority is bridging the digital divide and ensuring that Americans have access to digital opportunity regardless of where they live, and the FCC’s Mobility Fund Phase II program can play a key role in extending high-speed Internet access to rural areas across America,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “In order to reach those areas, it’s critical that we know where access is and where it is not.”
Rosenworcel boiled down her thoughts on a better approach for broadband maps into three key components: coordination, correct, and creative.
Rosenworcel said policymakers across government need to work together to get the maps right, including coordination between the FCC, Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, and the Rural Utilities Service.
“We should be looking for data from our state counterparts at public service commissions, and other state and local efforts tasked with developing broadband data. This is an all-hands effort. No one authority can do this alone,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, Rosenworcel said a premium must be put on accuracy, and new ways to improve the maps must be considered, including fully embracing crowdsourcing. She also suggested a pilot project that involves postal trucks collecting wireless deployment data as they cover their routes in rural communities.