Just over a year and a half ago, I wrote about the broadband gap, calling attention to the urgent need for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update their approach to gathering and reporting broadband mapping data. At the time, we knew very clearly that the FCC was vastly undercounting the number of Americans without access to broadband. And because of new research – including our own – we knew the problem to be much larger than previously thought: According to Microsoft’s own data, 157.3 million people in the U.S. do not use the internet at broadband speeds and, according to BroadbandNow, at least 42 million people do not have broadband access at all.
But, today, we know its impacts better than ever. As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, millions of people today aren’t just being left behind, they’re being left out of everyday life. While many can work from home, use telehealth or educate their kids remotely, huge swaths of the country are forced to drive long distances to pick up schoolwork or camp out in public library parking lots to access Wi-Fi. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We often say that we can’t solve a problem we don’t fully understand. Accurate maps are absolutely necessary to help regulators effectively target funding where it is most needed and understand how effectively their funding is being applied to connect those without broadband access.
Fortunately, Congress passed the Broadband DATA Act earlier this year, which would improve the FCC’s mapping data. And we commend Congress for providing broadband funding in the latest Covid-19 stimulus bill signed into law this week, which would begin setting up the new mapping solution. We particularly want to thank Senators Wicker, Thune, Cantwell, Klobuchar and Peters, as well as Representatives Pallone, Loebsack, McEachin, Walden, Latta and Long for their work in including this vital funding in the bill.
But the work doesn’t end there. The FCC must now move forward with standing up the new mapping solution as soon as possible. If they fail to rapidly implement this new accurate mapping solution, rural America will be left in the digital dust. We can’t let that happen. But if they move with the urgency the issue deserves, the FCC can change millions of lives for the better.