High-Speed Internet in Rural America? No, the Map Is Not the Territory

October 6, 2022

One would expect the United States government to have a detailed map of the country’s broadband services. A map of this nature provides valuable information and insights for many federal departments. Ars Technica reports differently in the article: “FCC Has Obtained Detailed Broadband Maps From ISPs For The First Time Ever.”

The Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated that her organization has conducted a years-long process of collecting the necessary information to create an exhaustive broadband map. This map contains extensive location-by-location information on precisely where all broadband services are available.

Past broadband service maps were based on the Form 477 data-collection program that counted one census block as broadband accessible even if only one location was served. The new maps will help distribute funds from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that Congress established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Rosenworcel is determined to close the availability gap for Internet services, especially in rural and under-serviced areas. The first edition of the map will then be constantly updated based on new data:

“The FCC is continuing to improve the location dataset’s accuracy ‘through additional data sources, such as LIDAR data and new satellite and aerial imagery sources, as they become available,’ Rosenworcel wrote. The FCC also set up a process for broadband providers to submit new data as they upgrade and expand networks. ‘When the first draft is released, it will provide a far more accurate picture of broadband availability in the United States than our old maps ever did,’ Rosenworcel wrote. ‘That’s worth celebrating. But our work will in no way be done. That’s because these maps are iterative. They are designed to be updated, refined, and improved over time.’”

It is almost the end of 2022, the Internet has been around since the mid-1990, and the US government is finally getting around to a detailed ISP map? Why did it take so long? It makes sense that when the technology was new it was hard to collect data, but it could still have been done. They could have used telephone records when the Internet was still on dial-up, then when it transitioned to other services they could have asked companies to submit their data. If companies refused to share their data, that is when the government would impose fees and subpoena the information.

The information could have been overlaid, then with big data, all these algorithms could have been used to analyze the information. Automation might have been installed to keep the map updated. Surely it would have been cheaper compared to other federal programs. I bet they have detailed broadband maps in other countries, especially the smaller ones with high standards of living. Or not. Bureaucracy is notoriously slow everywhere.

Whitney Grace, October 6, 2022

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