Broadband deployment data collected by the FCC from service providers overstates the availability of broadband access on tribal lands because it “considers broadband to be ‘available’ for an entire census block if the provider could serve at least one location in the census block,” according to the Government Accountability Office.
In a report prepared at the request of the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and released today, GAO said that “[o]verstatements of access limit FCC’s and tribal stakeholders’ abilities to target broadband funding to such areas. For example, some tribal officials stated that inaccurate data have affected their ability to plan their own broadband networks and obtain funding to address broadband gaps on their lands. By developing and implementing methods for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands, FCC would be better able to target federal broadband funding to tribal areas that need it the most and to more accurately assess FCC’s progress toward its goal of increasing all Americans’ access to affordable broadband.”
In addition, GAO said, the “FCC does not have a formal process to obtain tribal input on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data. In the  National Broadband Plan, FCC highlighted the need for a targeted approach to improve broadband availability data for tribal lands. As outlined in the plan, such an approach would include working with tribes to ensure that information is accurate and useful. About half of the tribal stakeholders GAO interviewed raised concerns that FCC relies solely on data from providers, and most stated FCC should work with tribes to improve the accuracy of FCC’s data. Establishing a formal process to obtain input from tribal governments on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data could help improve the accuracy of FCC’s broadband data for tribal lands.”
GAO recommended that the FCC “develop and implement methods – such as a targeted data collection — for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands”; that it “develop a formal process to obtain tribal input on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data that includes outreach and technical assistance to help tribes participate in the process”; and that it “obtain feedback from tribal stakeholders and providers on the effectiveness of FCC’s 2012 statement to providers on how to fulfill their tribal engagement requirements to determine whether FCC needs to clarify the agency’s tribal engagement statement.”
GAO said that the FCC agreed with the recommendations. It also said that it would update the committee when it sees what actions the agency takes. —Lynn Stanton, email@example.com