WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to urge her colleagues to support and pass an amendment she introduced to improve data about rural broadband internet coverage.
Spanberger’s amendment—which passed out of the U.S. House—would strengthen existing efforts to identify rural communities eligible for expanded broadband infrastructure development.
Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) generates maps highlighting which geographic areas have access to broadband internet. These maps are used in a variety of ways, including to award funding and subsidies for broadband expansion. However, these maps have been found to be inaccurate and unreliable—and these mapping errors could leave many rural communities ineligible for current federal funding to expand broadband development.
Spanberger’s amendment to the Save the Internet Act of 2019 would help fix these challenges by requiring a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband mapping. Additionally, the GAO report would provide recommendations on how the FCC can produce more accurate, reliable, and granular maps—and the report would identify FCC programs that rely on broadband maps and could benefit from improved accuracy.
During her speech, Spanberger highlighted the impacts the digital divide between urban and rural communities has on rural families, students, farmers, and business owners across Central Virginia. Click here to watch her speech. A transcript of her remarks is below:
I rise in support of my commonsense broadband mapping amendment to H.R. 1644, the Save the Internet Act of 2019.
The digital gap between our rural and urban communities is real, and I hear about it from the people I serve every day.
According to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, more than 30 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed fixed broadband—compared to only two percent of urban Americans.
This disparity has long-term implications for the economic strength and security of our country.
In rural America, a lack of reliable broadband internet makes it harder for businesses to find customers and attract new employees. Without reliable broadband internet, communities across this country face challenges attracting new businesses and investment. In rural America, farmers have a tougher time using the latest precision agriculture technology. And in places without reliable broadband internet, kids find it difficult to complete their homework assignments.
In Central Virginia, farmers and producers are disadvantaged, because the lack of broadband makes doing business harder. In our district, constituents driving their kids to a McDonald’s or to neighboring counties so that they can complete their research projects for school. And what’s happening in our district is happening nationwide.
Today, we are considering critical legislation to champion the idea of a free and open internet. There’s no question that rural broadband internet access should be a part of this conversation—and this bill would also include a provision to restore the FCC’s authority to fund the expansion of broadband access across our rural communities.
But right now, there are many questions surrounding the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband internet maps, which outline which areas in the United States have high-speed internet coverage—and which do not.
These maps have important implications for our rural homes, schools, and businesses. These maps are used to award funding and subsidies to expand broadband coverage to areas that don’t have it—and in many cases, these efforts have led to great success.
However, these maps have been found to be inaccurate, incomplete, or unreliable. Often, a map will claim an entire area is covered by high-speed broadband—when in reality, only a small portion of that area has reliable coverage. This trend should not be the status quo in our digital age, because it leaves so many rural families underserved.
Areas where the FCC’s maps incorrectly say there is high-speed rural broadband connectivity are often ineligible for funding to expand broadband—and these inaccuracies greatly disadvantage our rural communities.
Erroneous information in these maps could be the difference between a senior citizen being able to access lifesaving telemedicine services or not. It could be the difference between whether a farmer can keep up with market fluctuations halfway across the world or not. And it could control the ability of a young, aspiring student to access online information, college applications, and research materials.
My amendment to the Save the Internet Act would address a lack of reliable broadband internet connectivity in our rural communities—and it would begin to fix the errors in our current broadband maps.
My amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to produce a full report that examines the accuracy and quality of the FCC’s broadband mapping.
This report would also identify what the FCC should do to produce more accurate, reliable, and high-quality maps.
Additionally, the GAO report required by my amendment would help identify the scope of the broadband mapping problem and actually suggest solutions. With this new information, the FCC would be better able to update its maps—so that we can properly target our broadband expansion efforts to the rural towns, townships, and communities across our district.
Better maps of broadband coverage are a critical first step towards getting high-speed internet to every household—something we should aim to do in our globalized, digitally-focused economy.
As we’re having important discussions about protecting and expanding reliable access to the internet, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment to H.R. 1644.
With the information provided by the GAO report under Spanberger’s amendment, the FCC would be better able to update its maps and connect more rural residents to the programs they need to access high-speed broadband internet in their communities.
Spanberger is a cosponsor of the Save the Internet Act, which would restore popular, bipartisan net neutrality provisions for internet users that were repealed by the administration in 2018. The legislation also includes a provision that would revive the authority of the FCC to deploy broadband to rural areas of the country.
Earlier this week, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort urging key House Appropriations Committee members to boost funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure. In their letter, the bipartisan group of colleagues stressed the immediate need to expand high-speed internet access for rural homes, schools, and businesses. The letter led by Spanberger and U.S. Representative Rodney Davis was cosigned by 71 additional Democrats and Republicans. Click here to read the full letter.
A proud member of the House Agriculture Committee, Spanberger is working to expand rural broadband internet connectivity across rural America and to ensure equal educational and economic opportunities in rural communities. According to the FCC’s 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, more than 30 percent of Americans in rural areas lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps—compared to only 2 percent of Americans in urban areas.