FCC Adopts New Rules For More Precise Broadband Mapping

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) has released a Second Report and Order (“Order”) and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”)[1] in which it has expanded its current rules and procedures on data collection on the availability of broadband services.[2] The new rules adopted in the Order will help to better identify geographic areas where connectivity is needed in order to close the digital divide. The Order implements provisions of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (“Broadband Data Act”) which Congress passed in March 2020. Below is a brief summary of the new requirements for the data collection, creation of the maps, and other processes.

The FNPRM attached to the Order seeks additional comment on the proposals and requirements of the Order. Specifically, the Commission seeks comment on its proposals for processes to verify the data submitted by providers and processes for outside parties to challenge the accuracy of the map.

Establishing the Maps: The Order requires the Commission to create a common dataset of geocoded locations where broadband can be installed, known as the
Fabric. Further, the Broadband Data Act requires that the Commission create three maps: (1) The Broadband Map to show the availability of mobile and fixed broadband service which will be overlaid on the Fabric; (2) a map depicting fixed broadband service availability; and (3) a map illustrating mobile broadband availability. Providers must submit data so that the map can be updated twice a year.

Data Reporting Requirements: In its Order, the Commission now requires fixed and mobile service providers to report service quality and availability where (1) the broadband network infrastructure is built out and, therefore able to provide service, and (2) where providers could complete a standard broadband installation. In reporting the access data, the providers will now be required to submit data on speed and latency as well as download and upload speeds. In the FNPRM, the Commission seeks comment on how to collect data points and which ones to collect. The Commission proposes that fixed and mobile service providers report their service availability twice per year and the FNPRM seeks comment on the proposal that requirements adopted in the Order only be applicable to facilities-based providers. Notably, the Order requires that if the provider receives or has received universal service funds or has other state, federal or local obligations to provide service to a specific area, the provider must report the locations even if they do not meet the data requirements.

Challenge Requirements: The Order establishes a challenge process for which Tribal and governmental entities, consumers, and other entities will be able to challenge the accuracy of provider data, the Fabric, and coverage maps. The process will be through an online portal handled by the Commission. The FNPRM seeks comment on the challenge processes, its implementation, and what information should be required when submitting a challenge.

Further Comment Sought: The FNPRM broadly seeks comment on how to implement the Broadband Data Act. It also seeks comment on requiring a distinction between “residential-only” and “business-and-residential” services. Specifically, the Commission asks whether the FCC should require the collection of business-only service which would include non-mass market business data services. Particularly, the FCC asks would the use of this business-only data be helpful for the E-Rate or Rural Health Care programs. Finally, the FNPRM seeks comment on the enforcement mechanisms that the Order established should data not be submitted or should the data that is submitted be inaccurate or incomplete.

The item has not been published in the Federal Register, and as such, concrete deadlines for comments have not been established. The comments will be due 20 days after publication in the Federal Register and reply comments due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

If you have any questions, or would like assistance with this process, please contact Dee Herman at dee@hermanwhiteaker.com or Hilary Rosenthal at hrosenthal@hermanwhiteaker.com.