CHARLESTON – Lawmakers at the state and congressional levels are working to ensure that the next batch of broadband coverage maps accurately show West Virginia’s need for Internet expansion to broadband, especially since the state is about to receive funds to achieve this.
A Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) report was sent to the Federal Communications Commission on May 6, alerting the commission to errors in the allocation of Phase I of the FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction.
The auction has allocated $ 9.2 billion over 10 years to subsidize the construction of gigabit broadband internet in unserved rural areas in the U.S. Phase II of the auction, which will likely take place later this year, will reward more funding for building broadband in underserved areas of the country. Nine West Virginia companies received $ 362.1 million.
The CCA report found that due to inaccurate broadband coverage maps used by the FCC to determine which areas of the country are unserved and underserved, federal funding awarded during Phase I of the auction went to parts of the United States that already have reliable access to fast internet.
“Pervasive errors in broadband data will soon send hundreds of millions of dollars in federal broadband grants to areas of the country that need the least support,” wrote Alexi Maltas, general counsel for ACC and Alexandra Mays, policy lawyer.
‘Insufficient mapping means that instead of supporting areas that lack service, the Commission’s RDOF program will subsidize the deployment of broadband in areas that are clearly served – including some of the wealthiest and most densely-populated areas. populations of the country, “ Maltas and Mays continued.
Some of the areas receiving unnecessary RDOF funding include San Francisco’s popular Fisherman’s Wharf, the inner loop central business district in downtown Chicago, and parts of California’s Silicon Valley and the MIT campus. in Massachusetts. According to the CCA report, between $ 115 million and $ 745 million in funding went to areas of the country that don’t need broadband.
“All of this, while many areas of my state are not even eligible for this funding due to inaccurate maps. No state has been more penalized by bad maps than West Virginia ”, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., said in a letter sent to the FCC Thursday.
The current broadband cards used by the FCC are based on reports from Internet service providers – data that often goes unconfirmed. The data in Form 477 only requires providers to provide information about advertised maximum internet speeds instead of actual ones. The reports are based on data from census blocks in the United States and if only one house in a census block is served, the entire census block is considered to be served.
Broadband mapping issues have long been a focus of concern for Manchin, who for years has been collecting internet speed tests from Western Virginians, submitting them to the FCC to help them map, since 2015, when the FCC said at the time that 99.9% of Americans had wireless coverage. Manchin has since submitted more than 2,600 speed tests to the FCC.
In his letter on Thursday, Manchin commended the FCC for establishing a broadband data task force in March to make improvements to the broadband mapping problem. He also sent in a new batch of speed tests.
“As you continue to work on establishing a user-friendly process for people to submit this data directly to the FCC, I will continue to encourage Western Virginians to remain an active part of the process and submit the test data. speed to my office, which I will share with you and the Broadband Data Working Group to help you make decisions, ” Manchin said.
Manchin said he asked Ajit Pai, the former FCC chairman under former President Donald Trump, to delay Phase I of the RDOF auction until more accurate maps can be made. used to determine the location of unserved and underserved areas of the country.
“Unfortunately, (Pai) ignored my warning, arguing that we didn’t need updated maps because the FCC was certain of areas that were currently unserved,” Manchin said. “Sadly, what has been touted as the biggest step to bridge the digital divide to date increasingly looks like a misstep.”
Last year, the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council launched its own broadband card to track major broadband expansion plans, internet speeds, unserved and underserved parts of the state. The House Bill 2002, passed in the 2021 legislative session, empowered the new Broadband Office within the Ministry of Economic Development to provide broadband mapping services up to the street and at the level of the ‘location.
HB 2002 allows mapping information to include state and federal agency data, industry-supplied data, consumer data such as speed tests – provided to the Broadband Enhancement Council and the Office of Broadband.
“We want results on the expansion of the Internet. We know that bad cards lead to bad results. “ said Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, Principal Sponsor of HB 2002, Chairman of the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee, and ex officio member of the Broadband Enhancement Council.
“The House Bill 2002 guarantees in the code that our mapping will come from real data submitted by real Western Virginians – not just the internet providers themselves,” Linville continued. “This will ensure that our maps are as accurate as possible and that funding will be provided to projects that will actually extend the service. It also allows us to measure the success of our efforts. Without accurate maps, none of this is possible. “
In addition to the $ 362.1 million in Phase I RDOF funds, West Virginia will receive $ 138 million for broadband expansion through President Joe Biden’s US bailout. The state can also use part of the $ 1.355 billion it receives from the US bailout for infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion.
Counties and cities are receiving a total of $ 679 million under the Biden plan which can also be used for broadband projects. Another $ 100 billion investment in broadband comes from various grants and loans from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the US Department of Agriculture.