The House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this week passed Farm Bureau-backed legislation that would improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps.
“Farmers and ranchers, who have already seen a drastic 50% decline in net farm income in the last four years, must have access to fixed and mobile broadband to be more efficient, economical and responsive to environmental needs,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a letter urging the committee to pass the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act (H.R. 4229).
While most Americans take broadband for granted, data compiled by the Federal Communications Commission shows that 26.4 percent of rural Americans lack access to broadband compared to only 1 percent of urban Americans.
“However, an asterisk must be used alongside these figures because the current data and maps used to collect broadband coverage is flawed and fails to accurately determine broadband access,” Duvall noted.
The main problem with broadband coverage maps is that 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 which areas are actually in need. If even one household in a given census block is reported by a provider as being served, then the entire block is considered served. With census blocks larger than 2 square miles comprising more than 64 percent of the U.S. land area, every rural area is impacted by this problem in some way.
To help improve broadband accessibility maps, the Broadband DATA Act would establish a serviceable location fabric, which would serve as a baseline for served, underserved and unserved broadband areas.
“With limited funding and an overabundance of need, more granular and accurate maps are critical to successfully target and distribute federal broadband programs,” Duvall said.
In addition, the bill would require the FCC to establish an audit process that ensures internet service providers are providing accurate data., It also would create a user-friendly challenge process.
The Broadband DATA Act is similar to another Farm Bureau-supported bill, the Broadband Data Improvement Act (H.R. 3162). Farm Bureau also backs the Senate version of the Broadband DATA Act (S.1822), though it is slightly different than the House bill. The Senate’s Broadband DATA Act was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in July.