Washington—Since the dawn of the internet, rural Americans have struggled to connect with high-speed internet.
This past week the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held hearings on the nation’s broadband maps that are being created from service providers.
The accuracy of the massive mapping project now underway across the nation is in question. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi chaired the committee and said the FCC mapping process has led to overstated nationwide connectivity.
Senator Wicker thinks the nation needs more accurate maps to make sure that broadband funding and infrastructure goes where it’s needed most. He stressed that inaccurate maps waste funding and could slow rural economic development.
“We’re one-fifth through the 21st century,” said Sen. Wicker. “We ought to be able to get all Americans connected and close the digital divide. We need to have accurate broadband maps that tell us where broadband is available and where it is not available and at certain speeds.”
A State Farm Bureau President testified that the federal government needs to compile more accurate data in the process because it determines the federal funding for broadband projects.
Mike McCormick, Mississippi Farm Bureau president, told the committee that FCC maps determining broadband funding are seriously flawed.
“We don’t think that they are correct for sure,” said Mike McCormick, Mississippi Farm Bureau. “In the state of Mississippi, we’ve challenged the FCC’s maps and found that it was almost impossible to work through that challenge process. Something has to be done with that to be able to prove that we’re not almost fully covered in the state of Mississippi like FCC is saying,” said McCormick.
One of the basic flaws of the mapping project according to McCormick is that maps need to reflect current coverage, not intended future coverage.
“It starts with their 477 form that clearly asks a question about intent on service areas and one of the questions centers around could an ISP cover that area, and if that’s marked yes, then that part of the state is considered covered. I think we need to move away from the intent part of it and look strictly at what’s covered today,” McCormick told the committee.
McCormick testified further that the FCC needs to use more granular data and include farmland and ranchland. If there is no change in how the FCC assesses broadband needs, rural areas will suffer.
“I think we continue this digital divide into the future, and it may take decades before rural America can catch up. I don’t know if rural communities and rural America can stand to go that long. I think you’ll see more populations moving out of rural America and into metropolitan areas. And we just want to see our children have the chance to live on the farms and live in rural areas and have the same access as people in the cities,” said McCormick.
Executive Director Richard T. Cullen of the Connect Americans Now says accurate mapping is critical for future economic development.
“There's now bipartisan agreement that the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband maps that significantly overstate access across the country. It's forcing many rural communities to remain in the digital dark when they are overlooked for deployment efforts. We applaud Chairman Roger Wicker, Ranking Member Maria Cantwell and all of the members of the committee who are bringing attention to this important issue," said Cullen.
Following the hearing, Wicker asked participants to provide responses to all questions by April 24. A draft of the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report released in February notes that the digital divide between those with and without access to broadband speeds has “narrowed substantially.”