Aug 1, 2019

FCC votes to improve broadband maps

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to require broadband service providers like Comcast and Verizon to provide more granular information about where their services are available in order to create more precise broadband maps.

Why it matters: The agency uses its maps to determine where billions of dollars in broadband subsidies should be allocated. But the mapping data used has long been criticized for overstating the availability of broadband services and speeds to consumers, especially in rural areas where coverage is spotty.

How it works: The FCC currently requires fixed broadband service providers — not wireless providers — to report broadband availability by census block.

  • The catch: Companies can report that a census block is served even if only one household is hooked up to the service.
  • As a result, existing data may show services are available even where consumers can't get access — meaning the entire census block is not eligible for federal subsidies to expand broadband service.

The new requirements will make service providers report broadband access using "shapefiles," which are a more precise measurement to indicate where companies have broadband networks.

  • The FCC also said it will accept feedback from the public and local governments to make sure the data is accurate.

The other side: Democratic commissioners said they were disappointed the agency didn't commit to publishing the data in the National Broadband Map. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said affordability and price should be accounted for in the map, in addition to availability.

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Faster internet is coming, but only for a few

Data: FCC; Note: Non-mobile broadband speeds are 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload, Mobile LTE are 10 Mbps/3 Mbps; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Broadband technologies are getting better and faster — but access to them is still concentrated in metro areas and suburbs, leaving vast swaths of the country with marginal service or nothing at all.

Why it matters: Benefits of the broadband advances are mostly going to consumers who already have plenty of options for robust internet connections. Despite efforts to narrow the digital divide, rural areas, small towns and low-income neighborhoods in big cities still struggle to have access to reliable and affordable broadband service.

Go deeperArrowAug 6, 2019

Comcast expands low-income internet program

A Comcast vehicle. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Comcast announced today its largest-ever eligibility expansion for Internet Essentials, the cable giant's program that subsidizes basic broadband service and low-cost computers to help increase adoption for low-income households in the cities Comcast serves.

Why it matters: Households living in cities with the highest poverty rates are up to 10 times more likely than those in higher earning communities to not have access to wireline broadband internet service at home.

Go deeperArrowAug 6, 2019

Astranis to launch satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2020

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching to space. Photo: SpaceX

Satellite internet startup Astranis is planning to launch its first commercial satellite to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in 2020, the company announced Monday.

How it works: The satellite is designed to improve broadband internet service in Alaska starting in March 2021.

Go deeperArrowAug 27, 2019