Better broadband maps coming

Broadband Deployment Accuracy & Technological Availability could better target resources for areas lacking sufficient broadband.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

December 26, 2019

3 Min Read
Laptop in rural wheat field with broadband internet
Pekic/iStock/Getty Images

While technology often finds its way under the tree each Christmas, farmers may actually see an improvement in the ability to utilize their technology with better broadband connection.

A new bill passed by the House and Senate -- the Broadband Deployment Accuracy & Technological Availability (DATA) Act – could offer some needed assistance that will improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps to better identify needs.

While most Americans take broadband for granted, 26.4% of rural Americans lack access to broadband. According to a study released by the United Soybean Board, “Rural Broadband & the American Farmer: Connectivity Challenges Limit Agriculture’s Economic Impact & Sustainability,” an alarming 60% of U.S. farmers say they do not have enough connectivity to run their businesses, and this lack of connectivity negatively affects farmers responsible for $80 billion of gross domestic product. A study by the American Farm Bureau Federation showed that widespread broadband service could boost the agricultural economy by an estimated $64.5 billion.

The DATA Act requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue new rules to require the collection and dissemination of granular broadband availability data and to establish a process to verify the accuracy of such data. The DATA Act requires broadband providers to report more specific data to create a significantly more accurate and granular National Broadband Map. With more precise data, federal agencies can target funding to areas that need it most.

“Broadband is a necessity and many rural areas still don’t have access to it or are underserved. With limited funding, it’s critical we target resources where they are needed most,” American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said.

Current broadband coverage maps are inadequate because they rely on census block data to determine which areas are covered. Census blocks are too large in rural and remote locations to accurately determine need. If even a provider reports one household in a given census block as being served, then the entire block is considered served. Census blocks larger than two square miles comprise more than 64% of the U.S. land area, so every rural area is affected by this problem in some way.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) said he’s concerned that the current FCC maps dramatically overstate broadband access in Iowa in a way that has a negative impact on the funding eligibility. “Better data will ensure that funding is available throughout rural America. This bill should help the FCC accomplish these goals,” he said.

In August 2019, FCC voted to create a new Digital Opportunity Data Collection regime based on geospatial broadband coverage maps provided by fixed internet service providers. The Universal Service Administration Co. was charged with the new data collection and will create a portal for collecting the carrier data and allow for crowdsourced challenges to the maps. FCC continues to collect data based on census blocks but will require fixed broadband suppliers to also provide coverage maps based on shapefiles for more granular data.

“All Americans ought to be able to share in the opportunity that advanced telecommunications and mobile technology can bring to one’s home, classroom, hospital, business or tractor,” Grassley said.

In addition to creating more accurate maps, the bill requires FCC to establish an audit process to ensure that internet service providers are providing accurate data used to create the maps. It also would create a user-friendly process to challenge the data.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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