Senators Introduce Bill Requiring FCC to Collect “Consistent” Coverage Data

May 11, 2017–A group of senators today introduced a bipartisan bill that would require the FCC “to collect broadband coverage data that is valid, consistent, and robust,” a news release noted. “This standardized data is necessary to ensure that policies to expand broadband deployment accurately target the unserved and underserved communities and account for the mobile coverage experience of those living in the most remote parts of the country,” the news release added.

The bill would give the FCC 180 days to adopt “regulations to establish a methodology that shall apply to the collection of coverage data by the Commission for” the universal service program and any similar programs.The bill says that the methodology would have to “(1) contain standard definitions for different speed tiers, such as the 2G, 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE tiers; (2) ensure that coverage data is collected in a consistent and robust way; (3) improve the validity and reliability of coverage data; and (4) increase the efficiency of coverage data collection.”

The Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017 was introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), Deb Fischer (R., Neb.), and Jerry Moran (R., Kan.). Other original cosponsors include Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Gary Peters (D., Mich.).

“While Congress has mandated that consumers in rural America must have access to comparable services, there is still much work to be done to make this a reality in West Virginia,” Sen. Manchin said. “This legislation is an important step towards ensuring our ongoing efforts to close the broadband gap are guided by a realistic understanding of the mobile broadband coverage currently available to rural consumers. We must target the areas that remain in need of this critical support and deliver on the promise of universal service.”

“I have consistently expressed concern that FCC’s data does not reflect the real mobile broadband experience of consumers in rural America,” Sen. Wicker said. “This bill would address that problem by directing the Commission to improve the accuracy of the data it collects. This is an important step to ensure federal funds are spent on deploying broadband in communities that truly need it.”

“We can’t close the digital divide if we don’t know where the problem is,” Sen. Schatz said. “This bill will help us understand which communities still have bad wireless broadband coverage, so that we can move ahead and fix it.”

“The current broadband mapping system isn’t working,” said Sen. Fischer. “It’s leaving too many of our nation’s rural communities without the connectivity they need for success. The bipartisan Rural Wireless Access Act we are introducing today will help improve the collection and accuracy of wireless coverage data. Gaining more reliable information will play a pivotal role in expanding coverage to our rural areas, which will help more Nebraska families access the broadband service they need.”

“Millions of rural Americans in Kansas and many other states depend on the promise of mobile broadband buildout efforts, and this critical expansion depends on the accuracy of current coverage data and uniformity in how it is collected,” said Sen. Moran. “As we work to close the broadband gap, our providers must have standardized, clear data so they can plan out ways to reach communities most in need of access.”

“I thank Senators Wicker, Manchin, Schatz, Fischer, Klobuchar, Peters and Moran for introducing the Rural Wireless Act,” said Competitive Carriers Association President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Berry. “The first step to expanding mobile broadband services is identifying where sufficient mobile service is not currently available, and it is absolutely critical that important programs like Mobility Fund II use reliable, standardized data to ensure no consumer is left behind.  Requiring the FCC to establish data collection standards that reflect consumers’ real world experiences before making funding decisions ensures support is directed to areas where it is needed the most.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com