House committee advances legislation to improve broadband mapping

House committee advances legislation to improve broadband mapping
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A key House committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would ensure the government is adequately tracking which Americans have access to the internet, a fix with billions of dollars at stake. 

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broadband policy, on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, which would require the government to collect granular information about which areas in the U.S. have access to high-speed internet and which do not. 

"I'm proud that the Broadband DATA Act will finally get the data right," Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa), who introduced the bill, said at the markup on Wednesday.

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The Senate Commerce Committee advanced its own version of the Broadband DATA Act earlier this year, meaning there's significant momentum to move the bill onto President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE's desk.

The bipartisan Broadband DATA Act would help improve the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) current broadband maps, which have been widely panned as inaccurate and unhelpful, as they often overstate which areas have adequate coverage. Because the FCC uses the maps to determine where to devote billions of dollars in broadband investment, the issue has drawn intense scrutiny from people who say they are being overlooked — particularly lawmakers from rural areas, where critics say the maps tend to be particularly inaccurate.

The Broadband DATA Act would allow individuals, states, localities and tribal governments to challenge the FCC's maps with their own data. And it would implement new processes for the FCC to check whether the maps are an accurate reflection of reality.  

"With the investment of new federal funds on the horizon, it's important that we get the maps right to ensure they can be used effectively," Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said at the markup.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also unanimously advanced a bill on Wednesday that would make it illegal for people to submit inaccurate broadband access data to the FCC. That bipartisan legislation, the Mapping Accuracy Promotes Services Act, would bar anyone from "willfully, knowingly, or recklessly" submitting broadband internet access service coverage information or data to the FCC for mapping purposes if it's untrue.

Earlier this year, the FCC admitted that its maps were inaccurate because one internet service provider gave the agency false information about its broadband coverage.

The FCC is already taking its own steps to improve the broadband maps. Earlier this year, the FCC approved a long-awaited plan to improve the data it collects on broadband access. The commission voted along party lines in favor of a proposal that would require broadband providers to offer more detailed information on where they provide coverage and where they do not. The approach to mapping broadband access will help create more "precise broadband service availability maps," Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.