Last week, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure held a hearing on broadband mapping data in rural areas. The subcommittee listened to testimony from a panel of rural broadband carriers on how broadband mapping data can be improved. As RCRC has reported in the past, accurate broadband mapping data is essential to closing the digital divide between urban and rural America. While the federal government continues to increase public investment in rural broadband deployment, accurate data is required to determine where funding should be prioritized.
In addition, rural carriers attempting to provide coverage for underserved areas are receiving misinformation on which areas are truly underserved. “As long as broadband maps remain unreliable and riddled with erroneous, overly broad coverage claims, we will not be able to maximize our efforts to reach all unserved areas or to sustain services in areas where funding is needed to do so,” said Beth Osler, Director of Customer and Industry Relations at UniTel, a local carrier from rural Maine. Dan Stelpflug, Director of Operation at the Engineering and Technology at Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative in Potsville Iowa, identified a separate issue with rural carriers. Stelpflug pointed out rural carriers are not adequately staffed to identify and apply for federal grants administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Rural carriers also lack the staff to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) reporting requirements for projects funded by federal dollars.
Local and rural carriers are critical in closing the digital divide because they often served areas that are most underserved and most undesirable to nationwide carriers. In recent years, the federal government has committed more assistance to deliver high-speed broadband coverage to rural areas but the FCC needs to improve its broadband mapping data and engage further with rural carriers.