By Jeff Brueggeman, AT&T Vice President of Public Policy
Last week, the FCC officially launched the secret weapon in getting us to 100% broadband, its Universal Service Fund (USF) and Intercarrier Compensation (ICC) reform effort.
Coincidently, this week, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released (on time and on budget) its National Broadband Map. The map shows us the geographic areas where wireline and wireless broadband services are available, at the census block level, zooming in to get a fairly detailed look at where broadband exists and where it doesn’t. Additionally, the NTIA map will be searchable by address and show the broadband providers offering service in the corresponding Census Block.
The bottom line is that NTIA is producing the most detailed map of broadband coverage the country has ever had.
Harold Feld over at Public Knowledge has summarized the who, what, when, where and how of the National Broadband Map, so I won’t cover the details of how we got here. Harold also offers some opinions and predictions about how the map will be criticized in some quarters, but ultimately he concludes that the map will be useful.
I couldn’t agree more. We shouldn’t get lost in pointing out the map’s flaws, or what we consider its flaws, and forgetting the positive direction the map takes us. While we tend to focus on national broadband policies here within the beltway, the map will support ongoing broadband initiatives at the state and local level. We also shouldn’t underestimate the NTIA’s process for collecting the data, making sure that its efforts didn’t actually hinder the ultimate goal of achieving 100% broadband. The national broadband map is the result of an enormous cooperative effort that included service providers, NTIA, the FCC and state mapping entities.
And, that is where the FCC’s USF and ICC reform effort comes in. My colleague Hank Hultquist has already done a masterful job in showing how the lack of broadband deployment in rural areas is not going to be solved by private investment alone, and pointing to USF and ICC reform as the way to get there.
I will only add that NTIA’s broadband map is not terribly surprising, as it simply provides more evidence that there are high-cost rural areas where broadband has not been deployed. To the extent that NTIA’s broadband map provides details about the “rural-rural divide” described in the FCC’s recent NPRM on universal service reform, it can play a valuable role in helping to bring about long-overdue reform of that program.