Across the country, Americans use broadband to learn, shop, grow their businesses, and connect with friends and family around the world. Communities that gain access to affordable, high-speed Internet see improvements to economic growth, educational opportunities, and public safety and health care services.
Much of America has been reaping the rewards of broadband for years, but there are still areas of the country that don’t have the connectivity needed to keep up with the modern economy. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), more than 30 percent of rural Americans live in areas that lack broadband availability.
We know these gaps exist, but what we don’t know is precisely which areas of the country have insufficient broadband capacity. That makes it difficult to ensure that public investments in infrastructure are efficient and effective. Right now, the FCC’s Form 477 data, which is collected from broadband service providers, is our only source for nationwide broadband availability information. The Form 477 data program is valuable, but the data is not independently validated or verified. It is also reported at the Census block level, so that can lead to inaccuracies that overstate availability – especially in rural areas where Census blocks are large.
Congress recognized the deficiencies of the current broadband data collection process when it directed NTIA to update the national broadband availability map. Congress asked us to acquire third-party datasets to augment the information that is already available, in order to more accurately identify regions with insufficient capacity.
Today, we issued a request for comments seeking recommendations and feedback on potential sources of broadband availability data, as well as mechanisms to validate that data and any other ideas that can help to better inform broadband infrastructure planning. We want to know how the government can better identify areas that need broadband investments, so that we can be sure any taxpayer funds supporting broadband infrastructure achieve the goal of ensuring connectivity to all Americans.
NTIA has extensive experience collecting data on broadband adoption and usage in the United States, as well as collecting and verifying data from third parties. NTIA’s Digital Nation survey, in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, has gathered a wealth of information on use of computers and the Internet since 1994. Through our State Broadband Initiative, a five-year program that began in 2009, NTIA worked with every state, territory, and the District of Columbia to collect fixed and mobile broadband availability data for over 11 million Census blocks every six months.
We are seeking input from all stakeholders with an interest in broadband availability -- including private industry; academia; federal, state, and local government; not-for-profits. Comments are due July 16, 2018. As we improve our ability to analyze broadband availability, we will arm policymakers and broadband program leaders with the information they need to ensure that all of America realizes the benefits of broadband.