Golden Holds Hearing on Improving Broadband Mapping to Tackle Digital Divide

June 25, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C.— Today, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), Chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure held a hearing focused on improving broadband mapping in rural areas across the country. The hearing featured testimony from rural broadband carriers on the challenges that they face, and ways broadband mapping can be improved going forward.

“Accurate broadband coverage data is key to unlocking digital opportunities in rural America,” said Chairman Golden. “We need accurate maps so that billions of dollars of infrastructure incentives can be targeted to the towns and communities that need them the most. Congress and the FCC should make closing the digital divide a priority and the first step is producing better mapping.”

Today more than 293 million Americans use high-speed broadband to work, learn, and operate their business. However, 19 million Americans live without access to high-speed broadband, and many of those people live in remote parts of the country. Over time, a significant gap has developed in the number of Americans living in rural areas that have access to broadband compared to those in urban areas. This digital divide has stunted economic growth and individual success in education, wealth, and access to opportunities.

Broadband access has proved to be crucial for small businesses. Small firms rely on this connection to reach consumers, fulfill orders and generally conduct day to day operations. Firms in rural regions are at a significant disadvantage from their urban counterparts due to this lack of access.

As both the public and private sectors have sought to expand coverage, accurate mapping of broadband coverage throughout the country has proven to be a significant barrier. Inaccurate mapping prevents rural communities and the carriers that serve them from receiving critical federal dollars for broadband development.

“UniTel continues to strive to provide great service to its customers in rural Maine,” said Beth Osler, Director of Customer and Industry Relations at UniTel, Inc. in Unity, ME. “However, as long as broadband maps remain unreliable and riddled with erroneous, overly broad coverage claims, we will not be able to maximize our efforts to reach all unserved areas or to sustain services in areas where funding is needed to do so.” 

“Some of the challenges we have encountered as a small business include difficulty finding staff time to identify and apply for grants, insufficient staff to meet reporting requirements, and inaccurate data in federal broadband maps subsequently impacting federal grant funding,” said Dan Stelpflug Director of Operation, Engineering & Technology at Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative in Potsville, IA. “We hope the Congress will encourage the FCC to continue working with small carriers toward mutually agreeable resolutions to issues like ours.”

“All small businesses know the importance of basing decisions on reliable data,” said Tim Donovan, SVP of Legislative Affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association. “To close the digital divide, and provide connectivity for millions of Americans living in rural areas, policymakers must take actions to deliver coverage maps that are based on reliable, real-world coverage data. With improved parameters in place, a robust data collection will promote the inclusion of rural communities in today’s digital economy.”