The Federal Communications Commission will vote in August on an order aimed at creating a more precise U.S. map of internet access.
The agency is moving to improve its broadband mapping data as it gears up to dole out more than $20 billion in telecom subsidies over the next decade to expand high-speed internet access to unserved parts of the country.
“I intend to circulate a report and order at the FCC’s monthly meeting in August that would result in a more granular, and more accurate broadband map,” commission chairman Ajit Pai said at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee oversight hearing. “That means requiring broadband providers to report where they actually offer service below the census block level, and looking to incorporate public feedback into our mapping efforts.”
The FCC relies on broadband data submitted by providers such as AT&T Inc. to determine which areas of the country lack internet access and should be eligible for subsidies to improve coverage.
Democrats and Republicans have criticized the FCC for relying on flawed data that tends to overstate broadband access in rural areas.
At the hearing, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Pai’s proposed new broadband data requirements should be matched with penalties against ISPs that submit inaccurate information.
“I really think it’s going to be incumbent on the FCC, and especially you, to let the folks know, even with your rule, that if they don’t take this stuff seriously, they’re going to pay the price,” Tester told Pai.
Pai said he’d get back to the committee on what actions the FCC can take to punish carriers that submit inaccurate data.
Pai said the FCC is working as “quickly as we can” to make airwaves in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, also called the C-band, available to wireless carriers for 5G networks. The commission is weighing whether to let satellite companies that are using the spectrum to sell their access rights to the carriers, instead of holding a public spectrum auction.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) raised concerns about news of White House officials attempting to interfere with the agency’s review of the proposed merger of T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. Pai said the White House hadn’t contacted him about the merger and he wasn’t aware that the White House contacted any FCC commissioners.
Pai last month announced that he supports the $26 billion merger deal after the companies vowed to build out broadband service to rural areas and divest from one of their three prepaid phone brands.
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(Updated with Pai remarks on spectrum and T-Mobile-Sprint deal)