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Statement of The Hon. Jared Golden on Broadband Mapping: Small Carrier Perspectives on a Path Forward

Washington, June 25, 2019

Reliable and affordable high-speed broadband connections are a vital aspect of doing business in our day and age. Sadly, at least 25 million Americans still lack access to high-speed Internet—many of which live in remote parts of our country. We all realize it is more difficult and expensive to build out broadband networks in these areas but that’s no excuse to leave them behind.

To do so results in a devastating divide between our urban and rural economies that reduces economic opportunity for millions of Americans and small businesses. In fact, more than 26 percent of Americans in rural America lack access to high-speed broadband compared to 1.7 percent in urban areas.

And people that live in these towns across the country are noticing---58% of rural Americans believe that lack of access to high-speed internet is a problem in their hometowns. In my home district, at least 37,000 people do not have access to a wired high-speed Internet connection and 9,000 don’t have a wired connection at all. As we will discover through this hearing, the problem is likely much worse, as these numbers come from counts that overestimate both coverage and speeds available in rural communities.

To achieve parity across the country, Congress must work to coordinate federal resources and make common sense investments in targeted infrastructure projects. To do this the Federal government must have accurate data to ensure that funds and resources are being efficiently allocated to expand coverage to unserved areas.  Effectively mapping our current broadband is a necessary and obvious step.

However, the current state of broadband mapping is disgraceful.  There is strong evidence that the percentage of Americans without broadband access is much higher than the FCC’s numbers indicate. Even FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is on record recognizing the lack of accurate and granular data. Chairman Pai has stated he will introduce an order in August to address broadband mapping. In doing so, it is imperative the FCC develop rules that require large carriers to submit reports with more granular data. For example, instead of using census blocks, carriers can submit coverage reports based on much smaller census tracts or submit shapefiles instead of Form 477 data.

But greater granularity is not a silver bullet. Robust and in-depth authentication of broadband coverage data needs to be conducted to assess whether communities are truly connected.  In Maine, along with Minnesota, we are using publicly available data to develop more accurate maps. Members of this committee have heard from constituents across the country about slow download speeds and spotty connections. My home state of Maine has the second slowest broadband speeds in the country.

Without access to reliable internet, small firms in rural areas miss opportunities to connect with new customers and can’t take advantage of cost saving tools like digital payment processing and online distribution services. Finally, children in rural areas also need access to high-speed broadband to utilize cutting edge educational tools so we can usher in the next generation of tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

We can no longer accept that rural means digitally disconnected. Private investment is not enough, and inaccurate maps are a major barrier to the efficient expansion broadband networks across the country. I hope that today’s discussion will shed light on ways to improve data and accountability in broadband mapping. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress toward developing accurate broadband maps and bridging the digital divide.

 

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