President Trump signs bipartisan broadband mapping law

On March 23, 2020, President Trump signed the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act. The law requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect and disseminate more granular data about the availability of broadband service and to establish processes to ensure data accuracy.

The legislation comes in response to commentary about the FCC’s broadband coverage maps and suggestions regarding the Form 477 data collection process used to create those maps. The FCC has taken several steps to address these concerns about the data collection process. The FCC adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2017 to gather information about how to increase the quality and accuracy of broadband data and streamline reporting requirements. In August 2019, the FCC initiated a new process, the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, which requires all fixed broadband providers to submit granular maps of the areas where they have broadband-capable networks and offer service. Most recently, on December 4, 2019, the FCC announced that it would terminate its Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II) proceeding after an investigation into major mobile providers’ compliance with data collection requirements revealed that some of the maps used for MF-II may have reported differences with the  performance experienced by consumers. Controversy surrounding the report increased calls for Congress to act.

On March 3, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the Broadband DATA Act with bipartisan support. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent on March 10. The law places several new obligations on the FCC regarding the collection, verification, and reporting of broadband coverage data.

NEW RULES – Within 180 days from enactment, the Broadband DATA Act requires the FCC to adopt rules for a new data collection process. The key requirements are:

  • Biannual collection and dissemination of granular data on the availability and quality of service for terrestrial fixed, fixed wireless, satellite, and mobile broadband internet access service via publicly available maps.
    • The FCC must establish uniform standards for the data collection. The submitted data must document where (i) the provider has built broadband infrastructure that can provide service; and (ii) the provider could provide service by performing an installation. The data must also include information about download/upload speeds and latencies at thresholds established by the FCC.
       
    • Mobile broadband service providers are required to submit propagation maps and propagation model details indicating current 4G LTE service coverage. The data must reflect clutter and meet the following thresholds: (i) download speed of 5 megabits per second and upload speed of 1 megabit per second with cell edge probability of not less than 90 percent; (ii) cell loading of no less than 50 percent; and (iii) any other metrics deemed necessary by the FCC. The legislation also accounts for 5G and other next-generation wireless standards by requiring the FCC to ensure any next-generation modelling and mapping procedures are as accurate and as detailed as the 4G standards required under the law.
       
    • Fixed wireless broadband service providers may submit propagation maps and propagation model details that satisfy standards similar to those required of mobile providers and reflect the speeds and latencies of the service provided.
       
    • Terrestial fixed and satellite broadband service providers may report their coverage via polygon shapefiles.
       
    • In addition, fixed wireless, terrestrial fixed, and satellite broadband service providers have the option to report a list of addresses that constitute their service area, subject to certain limitations.
       
    • Service providers must include with their data submissions a certification from a corporate officer that the data is true and correct to the best of their knowledge.
       
  • challenge process that allows consumers, state, local, and tribal governments to submit coverage data to challenge the accuracy of the coverage maps or the data submitted by a service provider. The law includes several factors for the FCC to consider regarding the process, including costs associated with misallocation of funds, the ease of the process, data verification, timely resolution, and speedy updates to coverage maps. Between 12 and 18 months after enactment, the FCC must submit a report to Congress that evaluates the challenge process and addresses whether the FCC should consider other tools.
     
  • Reform of the 477 Data Collection Process – within 180 days of the effective date of the new rules, the FCC must create a new Form 477 broadband reporting template so that the FCC can (i) compare coverage and data maps from before and after implementation of the act and (ii) harmonize reporting requirements and procedures under the two frameworks. The Form 477 data collection will continue as in effect on July 1, 2019. The FCC must also establish a process to make the data available to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

NEW MAPS – The Broadband DATA Act requires the FCC to establish new maps in consultation with the Federal Data Geographic Committee, an interagency group that promotes and coordinates the production, use, and publication of geospatial data.

  • The three new maps are: (i) a National Broadband Map depicting the availability of broadband internet service in the U.S. without regard to the type of providers and the areas that remain underserved; (ii) a map depicting availability of fixed broadband internet access service; and (iii) a map depicting availability of mobile broadband internet access service.
  • The law requires the FCC to use the new maps to determine where terrestrial fixed, fixed wireless, mobile, and satellite broadband internet access service is unavailable; and when making new determinations for funding broadband internet access service deployments intended for use by residential and mobile customers.
  • The maps must be updated at least biannually, shared with the Department of Agriculture and NTIA for the administration of other broadband deployment programs, and made available to other federal agencies upon request.
  • The law also requires the maps to be publicly available at an appropriate level of granularity.

IMPROVING DATA ACCURACY – The Broadband DATA Act includes two mechanisms for verifying data submitted under the new collection process.

  • The FCC is required to conduct regular audits to ensure that service providers are complying with the new collection requirements.
  • Crowdsourcing – The FCC must also establish a process for individuals and entities to submit information about deployment and availability of broadband internet access service on an ongoing basis as a means to verify service provider data and identify discrepancies.
  • The FCC must test the feasibility of other means of collaboration including partnering with federal agencies that operate delivery fleet vehicles such as the U.S. Postal Service to collect coverage data.

WHAT’S NEXT

The FCC is required to begin its rulemaking in light of the law’s six month window. We are continuing to unpack the requirements and implications of this law and the interaction with other FCC broadband mapping efforts. Please contact us about the upcoming rulemaking process for further information about how the program develops.

 

 

Authored by Trey Hanbury and Arpan Sura

Contacts
Trey Hanbury
Partner
Washington, D.C.
Arpan Sura
Counsel
Washington D.C.

 

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