Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Wednesday that the FCC will vote in August on an order to improve the agency’s much-criticized broadband maps.
The FCC’s maps have been blasted for overstating how many places in the country have access to high-speed internet. This problem arises because a census block is considered covered if a provider says it could deliver service there “without an extraordinary commitment of resources.”
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Pai said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing that the upcoming order will require providers to report where they offer service at a more granular level, not just by census block.
During the hearing, West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito asked Pai to address what has prevented the FCC from improving the mapping to date. Lawmakers repeatedly have complained that inaccurate broadband maps waste resources and stifle opportunities for economic development in rural areas.
“There are only two ways to thread this needle,” the FCC chairman said in response. “Either – No. 1 – the FCC hires thousands and thousands of people to go out into the country to verify, or we have to rely on information we get from the outside. And that’s why – as part of this mapping initiative that we’re going to be rolling out – we’re going to be looking at other sources of information, like crowdsourcing, to try to get a better sense of where broadband is.”
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz criticized Pai, a Republican, for unveiling the mapping initiative without first telling the FCC’s Democratic commissioners about it.
“You just sprung an announcement on your fellow commissioners,” Schatz said. “They have to be in the loop so that you’re working together as a commission.”
More than 150 enterprises have reported lobbying on rural broadband since 2006, according to data on their disclosures from OpenSecrets.org, a website tracking money in politics that’s run by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Among those that have lobbied the most on this issue are cable companies such as Comcast Corp. , tech giant Microsoft Corp. and telecoms such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.