,An Internet satellite dish in the yard of a house in Madison, Virginia, US. The Biden administration's US$2 trillion infrastructure plan includes US$100bil to extend broadband networks to all US households, but officials relying on industry data have produced inaccurate maps of Internet deployment. — Bloomberg
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US federal maps show R. Clay Jackson’s beef cattle farm in rural Madison County, Virginia, is awash in broadband – a designation that likely rules it out of President Joe Biden’s push to connect all Americans to fast Internet service.
“The assessment is incorrect,” Jackson, owner of Senterfitt Farms and chairman of the Madison County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview. Local broadband is, in fact, sparse. “It puts us at a massive disadvantage as it pertains to applying.”
The Biden administration’s US$2 trillion (RM8.28 trillion) infrastructure plan includes US$100bil (RM414bil) to extend broadband networks to all US households. But officials relying on industry data produced inaccurate maps of Internet deployment. As a result, the US doesn’t know where to find everyone lacking service.
The Federal Communications Commission has long overstated how many people have broadband, creating a disconnect between data and reality. Now it’s a stumbling block for Biden’s effort to connect broadband have-nots – a cohort the White House puts at 30 million people, and others tally at 42 million or more.
“The biggest problem is false positives – places shown as having broadband when they don’t,” Michael Romano, senior vice president at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, said in an interview. “That frustrates financing and subsidies to places in need” because subsidy programmes rule out places listed as already having service.
Private investment has helped launch US cities and wealthy suburbs into a Netflix-binging, telecommuting lifestyle. Many rural areas with fewer potential customers have been left behind with poor connections, a shortcoming sharply felt as schools turned to online learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. The problem spans rich farmland, remote mountainous tracts, and isolated tribal lands – and perhaps most galling, areas just beyond suburbs that are but a short drive from modern networks.
Yet without accurate data and clear maps, officials are hard-pressed to discern precisely which areas are languishing.
“The best time to update our broadband maps would have been years ago. But the second-best time is right now,” FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in an email. “It’s hard to manage a problem we can’t accurately measure.”
Rosenworcel, a Democrat selected by Biden in January, said the FCC would update maps “in an iterative way” to better target funding.
The FCC’s known that its maps were faulty for at least five years. Now, spurred by impatient lawmakers in Congress, it says it’s working at speed to develop a new, definitive catalogue of broadband service. An internal task force is gathering precise data from providers, and the agency has asked for consumers to send emails describing their access to broadband.