The telecommunications industry has vocally contested President Biden’s new broadband maps, which are meant to help the government better understand where internet access is available and direct funds to close the digital divide. Providers argue that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) process fails to accurately represent their coverage areas, leaving them vulnerable to losing government funding. In this article, we discuss how broadband providers differ in opinion with the new coverage maps and provide arguments against them.
Industry representatives maintain that current maps are inaccurate because they rely on reported data from municipalities instead of testing at individual residences. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) estimates that over 30 million people— roughly a quarter of Americans without broadband service— aren’t represented by their mapping data. Further, they feel that by relying on reported rather than verified coverage areas, local governments are incentivized to make their service availability appear higher.
Furthermore, providers contend that even if an area appears covered on a map does not mean all residents have access to broadband service. Locations with spotty signals or no access due to low population densities receive less attention than populated urban areas with more demand for services. Such areas may also not be subsidized by carrier subsidies due to expected profits. Customers may be forced into expensive monthly contracts they can’t afford or receive unreliable service without alternatives in a best-effort basis ‘Service Level Agreement’.
Overview of Biden’s New Broadband Maps
President Biden recently unveiled his plan to bring high speed broadband internet access to all Americans. To do that, he proposed creating a new federal broadband map. This map would be used to identify areas with inadequate internet access and would be used to guide federal investments.
However, the industry has raised concerns and arguments against these new maps. In this article, we will look at the industry’s complaints about Biden’s plan and possible alternatives.
Overview of the new maps
President Biden’s new maps marking broadband coverage in the United States is a major development that could have far-reaching consequences in the industry.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared that broadband Internet should be considered essential services. As such, it proposed revising the existing mapping process and methodology to create detailed and accurate maps of areas needing broadband access.
The new maps would mark the areas accurately with their level of connectivity, showing how many households have access to high-speed broadband and whether there are major gaps between urban and rural areas regarding digital inclusion.
However, this revision has been met with some resistance from parts of the industry. They argue that this map negatively portrays their work and presents misleading data about their coverage due to an overly strict measure for satisfactory connectivity levels. They object that this fails to recognize actual subscriptions from those who choose not to sign up even though service availability exists in the area. Finally, the industry contests the accuracy of these new maps, which could lead to erroneous judgments about government funding for projects designed for digital inclusion.
The industry’s response to the new maps
The broadband industry has been vocal in its opposition to the Biden administration’s new broadband maps. AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, and other major internet service providers (ISPs) have argued that the new maps misrepresent the availability of broadband service and underestimate access speeds.
Comcast’s Executive Vice President Cathy Avgiris said in a statement, “experts within our industry have shared detailed feedback … that confirms this important tool for measuring availability based on significantly outdated data is not useful for making policy decisions that can help bridge the digital divide.”
Similarly, AT&T CEO John Stephens argued that “the process used to create these maps was flawed,” citing information from his company’s outreach efforts in West Texas as evidence of how inaccurate the maps were. Importantly, he also noted that higher speed services were provided to customers than what was represented on the maps. AT&T released its coverage maps in response to Biden’s initiatives, which more accurately reflect access to its services.
Charter Communications also pushed back against Biden’s initiative by releasing its internal coverage map and contesting their depiction on the government-issued maps. Charter Senior VP Rich Ruggiero said, “Our detailed network mapping shows far greater coverage than depicted by today’s FCC [Federal Communications Commission] actions.” He further noted that while they remain committed to working with federal and state regulators on meaningful solutions, lingering inaccuracies between their data and the FCC’s will obfuscate any resulting advances in bridging America’s digital divide.
Industry contests Biden’s new broadband maps
The broadband industry has been vocal in its opposition to the Biden administration’s new maps for broadband coverage, claiming that the maps do not accurately reflect the current state of Broadband access across the US.
With the help of industry experts, we’ll discuss the different arguments the industry has put forward against the new maps and why the industry is challenging them.
Argument 1: The maps are inaccurate
The telecommunications industry has argued that the Biden administration’s newly published broadband maps are inaccurate and do not accurately reflect the availability of internet access in America. They say this could misallocate federal funding by underestimating need, leaving some populations underserved.
Industry experts argue that the new maps underestimate actual coverage because they use
crowd-sourced data instead of direct measurements from providers. Further, they claim that because customers don’t always report accurate information, it leads to a distorted picture of coverage in many areas. This is especially true in rural areas where broadband infrastructure may exist but hasn’t been reported as such on crowd-sourced databases.
Telecommunications companies also dispute how the Biden administration used its mapping data to determine eligibility for federal subsidies, which provide discounts on monthly internet bills for eligible low-income households. Industry representatives have argued that their data shows far more people should qualify for subsidies than the Biden aides proposed – making it harder for those already struggling with high costs or limited access to get help from the government.
The industry argues that discounts awarded under this program should only be provided where there is a lack of service or costs are prohibitively high, not simply based on an area’s average income. In addition, they have urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to revise its map-based eligibility criteria and take various other measures including setting minimum speed requirements and using more robust data sources when identifying eligible areas.
Argument 2: The maps are incomplete
The industry has argued that Biden’s new maps are incomplete and difficult to compare shops with existing ones. This makes it difficult for broadband providers, who often base their business plans around analyses of the maps, to understand what coverage is available in certain areas and where their competitive advantages lie.
Additionally, current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maps rely on ISP-reported data that companies can manipulate to inflate coverage numbers or overlap with other companies.
Biden’s new maps offer improvements over current FCC options, such as measuring download and upload speeds over a more comprehensive range of locations than ISPs can provide.
However, they still omit critical information such as pricing data, quality of service (QoS) metrics and customer experience feedback that can be necessary for full comparison shopping. Furthermore, without accurate consumer feedback and verification process via independent third parties or community groups, there could be a “black out” effect caused by falsified data skewing the results.
Ultimately, the industry argues that Biden’s new maps do not represent a full picture of broadband availability and performance — they must be supplemented with additional data points before they can become truly useful for both citizens seeking information on available services and broadband providers aiming to understand where their competitive advantage lies in certain areas.
Argument 3: The maps are too costly
The third argument the industry is making against Biden’s new broadband maps is that they are too costly to implement. Broadband providers contend that the cost of gathering and mapping data would be too high, and they would be unable to pass on the costs to customers. Further, they argue that if they had to pay for this undertaking, it could hamper their ability to keep prices reasonable for consumers.
Additionally, there are concerns about the staff needed and resources required for companies to accurately report their coverage areas for the broadband maps. Companies have argued that having accurate and up-to-date service maps will require significant investment from providers, something many small and medium-sized businesses may not have the budget for or struggle with.
Industry representatives stress that providing broadband services can come with additional costs such as ongoing installation, equipment maintenance/replacement, network upgrades, customer service etc., which could all add up quickly if companies were required to verify current coverage information for updated digital maps. Their claims suggest that any additional cost imposed by Biden’s new map initiative would further limit their financial resources, potentially hindering their ability to address pressing connectivity issues in rural areas across America.
The new broadband maps aim to provide greater transparency on internet access in the US, and to do so without bias toward or against any particular industry. The wireless industry has raised several valid objections regarding some specific points, such as concerns that the maps will be overly-simplified or that having additional sites to disburse funds will inevitably lead to slowdowns in completion readouts; however, the overall goal is both commendable and achievable.
Ensuring that all Americans have access to high-speed broadband networks is a matter of fairness and progress; mapping existing networks should help us make realistic progress towards better coverage.