The Federal Communications Commission has finally updated its broadband map, but bug fixes for the agency’s connectivity cartography are still on the way.
The new map, which was introduced in draught form in November, is similar to the old one in that it invites you to enter an address or zoom to a specific area and then lists internet providers that provide service in that area.
The previous version, on the other hand, relied on provider-submitted data and treated an assertion of service anywhere in a census block as evidence of coverage across an area that could span blocks or square miles, depending on population density.
“The FCC’s old broadband maps were not very good, not at all,” FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel admitted at a recent technology conference in Washington, D.C. She claims that the replacement maps are based on 200-plus sources, including address-specific data from providers as well as additional data such as tax records and satellite imagery.
How frequently does the FCC’s broadband map get updated?
According to Rosenworcel, the 2020 law mandating the improved map requires updates at least every six months, but the FCC aims to update it on a continuous basis.
How can I find out what broadband options are available in my area?
By entering a location, you should get a much more reliable list of options. The map still needs to be read carefully and falls short of the functionality of a good airfare search site. As an example:
The map does not include prices, let alone pricing quirks such as rates that increase after the first year or do not include modem rental fees. (A pending FCC regulation requiring providers to list important service details in a format similar to food nutrition labels should help.)
While it lists the maximum download and upload speeds available—the latter of which is still difficult to find on many cable provider websites—it does not indicate whether or not your ability to enjoy them will be limited by a provider’s data caps.
It includes internet service providers that may not be accepting subscribers in a given area, such as SpaceX’s satellite-based Starlink service.
Some services are listed under formal corporate names, such as SpaceX, which is listed as “Space Exploration Holdings, LLC.”
It’s still too generous with jargon, assuming the reader knows “GSO” stands for “geostationary orbit,” as in the slow, expensive, and severely data-restricted service that remains the last resort for broadband.
The map can still be incorrect.
Fortunately, the new map includes a mechanism for users to report inaccurate data. And its table of theoretically available providers will show a gold circle under a “Chall.” heading that reports the number of challenges in the books if someone has already filed a challenge to one service’s listing.
A completely accurate map, on the other hand, may leave a reader disappointed because it accurately conveys an unpleasant truth: broadband is either unavailable or only available from one company at too many U.S. addresses.
That situation is improving, as $42 billion in broadband-buildout subsidies from the 2021 infrastructure law are expected to improve rural connectivity, while many incumbent providers are now competing with upgraded fiber-optic offerings and expanding home 5G service. However, for those stuck with a local monopoly, DSL sluggishness can give the impression that change is on the way.