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The revised map that shows where there is little to no internet service in the U.S. comes as the feds are about to distribute nearly $42.5 billion in broadband funding.
In three weeks, the federal government will dole out billions from the infrastructure act to each state to expand broadband service.
To make sure the nearly $42.5 billion goes to where it’s needed most, places with either no or poor internet access will be prioritized using a map from the Federal Communications Commission.
The FCC has been scrambling for months now to refine its data in a move that Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel described as “another step forward in its iterative effort to develop the best and most accurate broadband maps ever built in the United States.”
The agency last week released a new version that could shift where billions of dollars will be going.
The change could be good news for states like Alaska, which could get about $180 million more than it would have under earlier versions of the map. But Michigan could lose about $400 million to improve broadband service in their state, according to a review of the new FCC data in a newsletter followed by many in the broadband industry.
That’s because the new version shows that Michigan has fewer places with little to no internet service than the map showed several months ago, wrote the newsletter’s author Mike Conlow, director of network strategy for the tech company Cloudflare and former deputy chief technology officer for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential reelection campaign. A spokesperson for Michigan’s broadband office said the state is still reviewing the numbers.
According to Conlow’s analysis, nearly half the states will be getting more money, while others will be getting less than originally anticipated.
Several other states, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota, could also see far less money when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) distributes the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program funds on June 30.
The effort by the FCC to update its map comes after years of complaints from state broadband directors and other experts that the map wasn’t accurate because it wasn’t comprehensive—missing entire areas of broadband coverage.
The FCC created a new version of the map last year, but as Route Fifty reported at the time, some state broadband directors continued to question its accuracy, raising concerns that broadband dollars would not be distributed based on need.
So after setting up a process where state and local governments, broadband companies and individuals could challenge the map’s accuracy, the FCC unveiled a new version of the map last week. The new map shows 330,000 more unserved or underserved locations that had been missed in the previous version, bringing to 8.3 million the number of homes and businesses with no or poor internet service, according to the FCC. In addition, the new versions of the map added more than 1 million locations that were not included in the first draft.
Still, some observers continue to raise concerns. Most notably, the map does not distinguish a house with one occupant from an apartment building with hundreds of people. In other words, a house counts the same as an apartment building.
“We are concerned that while the map has improved, there will be an urban undercount,” said Gerard Lederer, a telecommunications consultant who works with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
While the map is not perfect, says Robert Fish, deputy director of Vermont’s broadband office, it seems to be more accurate. The state has successfully filed 8,100 challenges to it, adding more places with no or poor service to the map. Fish says that 22% of the homes and businesses in the state weren’t on the first draft of the map.
“They've said from the beginning that it's iterative, and this version does appear to be better, at least here in Vermont,” he said.
Fish expects the map will change again before the money is doled out, noting that about 2,700 challenges that Vermont has won are still not showing up on the current version of the map.
“We're hopeful that by June 30, when the NTIA makes their allocation, it's going to be a lot closer to reality,” he said. “But it's a work in progress.”
Similar to Vermont, West Virginia has also filed several challenges to the map. They’ve won about 80,000 of 120,000 challenges filed. According to Conlow’s analysis, the new version of the map shows that West Virginia has 271,597 locations with no or poor internet service, 86,000 more than the previous version. As a result, the state stands to get about $350 million more, or about $1.3 billion in total.
“We're going to be in much better shape than we were several months ago,” Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, said during a call with reporters.
Thomas Lochner, director of Alaska’s broadband office, agrees that the new version of the map is more accurate and shows more places in the state with and without service. One unique issue for Alaska in getting the map to accurately reflect broadband in the state is that many places there don’t have addresses. “If you send a letter to someone,” it shows up in a PO Box,” he said. Lochner, though, declined to say how much more money it could mean for the state.
In addition to Alaska and West Virginia, Iowa and Nebraska will likely be getting more money under the new map. Iowa could see about $238 million more, and Nebraska could get $467 million, or about $245 million more. The number of unserved locations in the state rose by more than 44,000 to about 647,000.
For states likely getting less money, the news was welcome in some places.
Jim Stritzinger, director of the state broadband office in South Carolina, said in an interview that he was actually “quite proud” because it showed the progress the state has been making.
“The number of unserved homes in South Carolina is falling so rapidly,” he said, “we're honestly pleased to see the number go down.”
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty, covering Congress and federal policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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