Broadband Mapping Problems

A GOA Report addressing the lack of broadband on tribal lands outlines the mapping problem. The full tribal lands report is HERE: Tribal BB

In our September 2018 report on broadband access on tribal lands, we found that FCC collects broadband availability data from broadband providers, but its method for collecting the data does not accurately or completely capture broadband access—the ability to obtain service—on tribal lands.9 Specifically, FCC directs fixed broadband providers to submit a list of census blocks where service is available on their Form 477 filings. In the Form 477 instructions, FCC defines “available”10 as whether the provider does—or could, within a typical service interval or without an extraordinary commitment of resources—provide service to at least one end-user premises in a census block.11 Thus, in its annual reports and maps of fixed broadband service, FCC considers an entire block to be served if a provider reports that it does, or could offer, service to at least one household in the census block. As shown in figure 1, FCC’s definition of availability leads to overstatements of fixed broadband availability on tribal lands by: (1) counting an entire census block as served if only one location has broadband, and (2) allowing providers to report availability in blocks where they do not have any infrastructure connecting homes to their networks if the providers determine they could offer service to at least one household. FCC has noted that overstatements of availability can be particularly problematic in rural areas, where census blocks cover larger areas.


According to FCC officials, FCC requires providers to report fixed broadband availability where they could provide service to: (1) ensure that it captures instances in which a provider has a network nearby but has not installed the last connection to the homes, and (2) identify where service is connected to homes, but homes have not subscribed. FCC officials also told us that FCC measures availability at the census block level because sub-census block data may be costly to collect. However, FCC acknowledged that by requiring a provider to report where it could provide service, it is not possible to tell whether the provider would be unable or unwilling to take on additional subscribers in a census block it lists as served.12 In addition, when reporting on broadband access in tribal lands,13 FCC uses the broadband availability data described above, and does not collect information on factors that FCC and tribal stakeholders have stated can affect broadband access.14 These factors include affordability, service quality, and service denials.

By developing and implementing methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands, FCC would be better able to target federal broadband funding to tribal areas that need it the most. We recommended FCC develop and implement methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands. FCC agreed with this recommendation and stated that it is exploring methods to collect more granular broadband deployment data.


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