internet

Texas will receive more than $26 million for rural broadband expansion.

AUSTIN — Nearly 7 million Texans lack broadband access, but a new federal mapping system is working to change that.

The Federal Communications Commission released the first draft of its new broadband map last week. The map offers a more granular look at where broadband access is and is not available nationwide.

“Today is an important milestone in our effort to help everyone, everywhere get specific information about what broadband options are available for their homes, and pinpointing places in the country where communities do not have the service they need,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. 

In an effort to collect more accurate data, the FCC changed what information service companies are responsible for providing on a regular basis.

Prior to new regulations, internet service providers were only required to indicate whether they offered services in any given census block. But in more rural areas, where blocks are geographically larger, providing service to one structure within the bounds counted as providing service throughout the block.

The new tracking now requires providers to indicate each individual structure, be it home or business, that they are able to provide services to and offer updated information every six months. 

Having this information will better highlight gaps in services and where funding should be directed, FCC officials said.

“By painting a more accurate picture of where broadband is and is not, local, state and federal partners can better work together to ensure no one is left on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Rosenworcel said.

Brent Legg, executive vice president of government affairs at Connected Nation, said this is especially impactful in rural areas for that reason.

During the pandemic, it became clear that access to reliable internet is necessary to fully participate in modern society, Legg said. Without it, access to medical professionals, educational resources, online retailers and other life necessities becomes increasingly difficult, Legg said.

“So much of our society rests on (broadband access) and it has become just as important as having clean water and reliable electricity,” Legg said.

Last year, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which dedicated $42.5 billion to broadband deployment grants.

Legg said the granular map will help identify the greatest needs so the money is used most effectively.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is responsible for determining allocations, said it plans to begin administering funding next summer.

“While there's still a lot of work left to be done, we're really excited about what this map means,” Legg said. “We have the ability now to determine which homes and businesses are still yet unserved by broadband so that we can more effectively target funding programs to close those gaps.”

The public can view the map at https://broadbandmap.fcc.gov, where they can also compare different providers and services for their area. Should residents find an error, such as a provider that does not actually offer services to their home or business, they should report it to the FCC. 

“If it's wrong, let the FCC know about it because that's going to have a huge impact on our ability to close those remaining gaps,” Legg said.

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