The Federal Communications Commission has released an updated map detailing broadband availability across the U.S.

The new map improves on its past iterations, experts say, but there are still questions about the accuracy of some of the  information included.

In the past, maps tended to overestimate coverage because it was based on advertised speeds available and Census block level, said Robert Gallardo, director at the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

“It’s self-reported by providers, not cross checked at all, from consumers,” he added.

The new map, released in November, looks at the address level, he said. Then they went to the providers and asked what technology was available and at what speeds. 

“So you have a location component, and you have an availability component,” he added. 

Gallardo said he applauds the FCC for taking proactive steps with the map. 

“The issue, though, becomes then the availability piece that providers are reporting that’s the same glitch that we had before, which is providers reporting on their own,” he added. “Now you can go in and challenge that availability, but it does require a little bit of prep time, meaning you can see the options you have to challenge the availability piece.”

To challenge, one has to include either a bill from the provider or include a screenshot from the website that shows the package is not available for that address. 

The worry, according to Gallardo, is that challenging the map takes some technology know-how that not everyone may have. And the deadline to challenge for this map is January 13. The final map will be used to distribute funds for broadband from the federal government. 

“The problem is, there’s not a lot of time, January 13,” he said. “And it does require a little bit of digital savvy to go in there and take a screenshot of the website or upload the bill. There’s some folks there that will know that’s not true, but they don’t have the skills to go do it. And honestly, with that amount of time, I don’t know how to solve that.”

Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge — an organization that promotes freedom of expression, an open internet, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works — said what’s at stake with the maps is billions of dollars in funding. 

She said she has some concerns with the latest map. 

“I’ll start by saying these maps are significantly better than they were before,” Leventoff said. “So these updates are certainly a step in the right direction. I think they fall short in a couple of places.”

First, the data comes from internet service providers, and then the fabric, which is the locations where broadband could be available, comes from a contractor. 

“And so obviously, that data is not always going to be correct. And the FCC knows this,” she added. 

Leventoff said if you look at the homepage of the new maps, it kind of defaults to showing every different type of broadband, including satellite internet. 

“And usually satellite internet offers extremely slow speeds that fall below what the FCC would define as broadband. Not all the time, obviously, there’s some providers that do offer broadband speeds, but some don’t. And so I think when people are looking at this homepage, I mean, it essentially looks like the whole country has internet, which is obviously not true,” she said. 

Another concern for her is that she said the FCC is not concerned about the speeds for consumers. 

“So the maps will show the speed that providers advertise,” she said. “And oftentimes the speeds that providers advertise, and the speeds that you or I as a consumer are getting are not going to be the same speed.”

Leventoff wants the FCC to provide more guidance on how communities and community-based organizations can do both challenges for the maps. 

“Because I think that that’s going to make it easier to get a more accurate version of the maps. And I’d love to see the maps overlay with demographic data. I think that’s going to be particularly helpful for the digital discrimination rulemaking that the FCC is going to be doing in the next year,” she said. 

This story by Kristi Eaton was originally published in the Daily Yonder. For more rural reporting and small-town stories visit dailyyonder.com.

Top image: This is the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Map. (screen shot of FCC site)

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