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GOP Leaders Press FCC To Speed Up Broadband Maps

Law360 (March 8, 2021, 3:12 PM EST) — A handful of House and Senate Republicans are pressing acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to explain why her projected timeline for updating broadband maps lengthened from a few months to a year.

According to a letter from ranking members on the Senate Commerce and House Energy and Commerce committees Monday, holdups in the project are likely to create a domino effect, slowing the distribution of broadband subsidies that will rely on the data.

“With so many Americans still lacking high-speed broadband, we are concerned that delays in completing these maps could lead to further delays in distributing critical broadband funds,” according to the letter, penned by Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state.

For years, Congress has been pressing the FCC to comprehensively update its data on where broadband service exists and does not exist, which informs where the federal government should target connectivity subsidies. A new FCC task force finally launched last month, using funding from the Broadband Data Act to create a long-anticipated, comprehensive mapping framework for the agency.

The agency must now solicit bids from contractors to create the broadband database or “fabric,” ask providers to submit detailed location data files to plug into the fabric, and set up online portals so the mapping data collection can begin.

Although Rosenworcel has long been a vocal proponent of this project, the lawmakers pointed out she testified twice in 2020 that the maps could be updated “within three to six months.” However, recent FCC estimates indicate the project won’t be finished until next year.

According to the lawmakers, this is a problem because the updated maps underpin both the second phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund — which will distribute a decade’s worth of broadband subsidies in areas determined to lack sufficient broadband service — and federal grant programs designed to provide coronavirus relief.

The lawmakers asked the FCC to provide “detailed information on why your estimated timeline for completing new maps has changed from three to six months to at least one year” as well as “a detailed timeline for the development of new maps.”

In response to Law360’s recent request for comment on the task force’s timeline, an FCC spokesperson said “commission staff is working hard on contracting for development of both the Broadband Serviceable Location Service Fabric Database and the complex data platforms and portals that will be needed for collection of carrier data and challenges.”

–Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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