Service providers have told the federal government where they offer high-speed internet. Now it is up to the customers to check their work.
The Federal Communications Commission recently launched a program an interactive mapping tool indicating the availability of Internet service at each address, as reported by service providers. An up-to-date and granular map of where high-speed service is available and can be provided will be used to direct billions of dollars in federal support to expand access.
The Public Service Commission urges citizens and businesses to “raise the FCC” by ensuring accuracy and submitting challenges.
“An accurate map showing broadband access in our state is critical to ensuring Wisconsin receives our fair share of federal funding,” said PSC Chair Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “Local leaders and community members know their communities best, which is why we sincerely ask them to get involved in the broadband mapping challenge.”
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The map will be used to direct an additional $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funds authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to help expand service to hard-to-reach areas.
The PSC expects Wisconsin to receive between $700 billion and $1.1 billion, depending largely on the final maps. The agency estimated it would cost up to $1.4 billion to make high-speed Internet available to the roughly 650,000 residents who currently do not have it.
Users can go to broadbandmap.gov and zoom in to see the availability of different types of service at more than 2.3 million individual addresses and submit challenges if the information is inaccurate.
PSC already got ithas issued more than 7,000 challenges based on home and business deficits, but state director of broadband and digital equity Alyssa Kenney said residents know best.
“Sometimes we don’t know – is that a barn or a house?” Kenney said. “Do they both need access?”
Customers are also able to challenge the map based on availability.
In some cases the map shows 25/3 mbps service being offered but when customers call, the provider says it’s not available or will cost more than the standard installation fee — sometimes thousands of dollars. In some cases, the service technician never shows up.
“That’s information we just don’t have,” said Kenney. “Those are really challenges that are best done by humans.”
Kenney said the new map represents a significant improvement from the previous version, which tracked the Census block service and tended to emphasize availability, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas. Those maps made it seem like the service was being done in a large area when it might be found in just one or two houses.
“This is a really strong pivot,” said Kenney. “This is the first iteration of what may be a few years and a few cycles to fix.”
But there is a shortage.
For example, the map includes technology such as satellite service, which can be very expensive and not always reliable – but is technically available to 98% of all residents.
“You should be able to buy a satellite,” said Doug King, a consultant who works from his home near Mount Horeb in the town of Perry. “When you turn the settings to the affordable cable/fiber option, most parts here go dark.”
King, who has been fighting with TDS Telecommunications since 2009 to improve services in the city, said the map is getting “even more stupid” as homes that are said to have 25/3 mbps services are actually much slower. – unless customers agree to combine cable service with telephone service.
Kenney would like to see future versions of the map reflect that fact.
“This map is about discovery,” Kenney said. “That’s not performance and that’s not affordability. It’s a good first step. We would like to see what people are experiencing in their homes. And what is the cost?”
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