Poor and insufficient maps on broadband access by the Federal Communications Commission means that President Joe Biden’s championed infrastructure bill may not actually give broadband to many lacking areas, at least for a long time, according to a new report. 

“The Federal Communications Commission’s maps, based on data from telecom providers, have fueled years of complaints from local government leaders and members of Congress alike,” Politico reported, “And now they pose one of the biggest threats to getting millions more Americans wired with fast internet — an increasingly crucial gateway to jobs, schooling and commerce.”

Biden signed his infrastructure bill nearly two weeks ago, calling it “historic” and saying that it would largely help the middle class. One of the key selling points for the bill was broadband expansion, which appears to face an uphill battle due to FCC maps widely criticized as inaccurate. 

The difference between FCC estimates about who is lacking access to broadband in the United States, and projections from BroadbandNow, an organization that wants to expand access to broadband, is quite stark. 

On the whole, the FCC says that about 6.5% of Americans do not have broadband, while BroadbandNow puts that number at 13.1%. For several states, the difference is often quite large. 

In states including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee, BroadbandNow’s estimate is about double that of the FCC.

“The mapping has been totally inaccurate,” said co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission Gayle Manchin, “The federal government is saying you don’t need funding because your state is completely covered.”

While more accurate maps have been mandated for allocating infrastructure spending on broadband by Congress, Politico notes that this could be a long time away. 

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel told the senate in November that the maps were “not accurate” and that the situation “stinks.” 

Analysis in Georgia found that most of the regions in that state that most lacked broadband are the rural and less populated counties.

Incoming Republican Virginia Lt. Governor Winsome Sears has discussed the need for broadband access expansion in Virginia, where the FCC estimate is about 8 percentage points lower than BroadbandNow.

“Do we know what’s really in it and do we have to pass it before we can know what’s in it?,” she said in an interview with Dana Bash where she discussed Biden’s infrastructure bill. “Now broadband is very important to me, because our southwestern Virginia has been suffering from not having that.”

Earlier this year, Republicans in the Senate put out their own proposals for increasing broadband access throughout the country. Simultaneously, they critiqued the FCC and other other federal broadband initiatives. 

“While many of these programs have had success, there are redundancies and inefficiencies throughout the federal system, some programs have been plagued by fraud, and levels of accountability and transparency vary widely,” a Senate Republican policy paper noted. 

The paper also pointed out the failure of the FCC to produce better maps. 

“The FCC has not yet produced the map, despite repeated calls from congressional leaders,” the paper said, “Continued oversight and pressure on the FCC to finish its mapping process is an issue for policymakers to consider in the 117th Congress.”

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