Is broadband available near you? This updated FCC map can tell you. Maybe.
The Federal Communications Commission has finally given its broadband map a needed upgrade, but bug fixes are still coming for that agency’s cartography of connectivity.
The new map, introduced in draft form in November, resembles the old one in that it invites you to enter an address or zoom to an area and then lists internet providers offering service there.
But the previous version relied on provider-submitted data and treated an assertion of service anywhere in a census block as evidence of coverage throughout an area that could span blocks or square miles, depending on population density.
“The FCC's old broadband maps were not very good, not very good at all,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel stated the obvious at a recent tech conference in Washington, D.C. The replacement maps, she said, draw on 200-plus sources that start with address-specific data from providers as well as such additional data as tax records and satellite imagery.
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How often is the FCC broadband map updated?
The 2020 law mandating the improved map requires updates at least every six months, but, the FCC aims to update it continually, according to Rosenworcel.
How can I check which broadband is available in my area?
Plugging in a location should yield a much more reliable list of options. The map still requires some careful reading and falls short of the utility of a good airfare search site. For example:
The map doesn’t list prices, much less pricing quirks like rates that jump after the first year or don’t include modem-rental fees. (A pending FCC regulation that will require providers to list important service details in a format modeled after food nutrition labels should help with that.)
While it lists the maximum download and upload speeds available – the latter remains hard to find at many cable provider sites – it does not indicate if your ability to enjoy them will be constrained by a provider’s data caps.
It includes internet providers that may not be taking subscribers in a given area, such as SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-based service.
It displays some services under formal corporate names, listing SpaceX as “Space Exploration Holdings, LLC.”
It’s still too generous with jargon, assuming that a reader will know “GSO” means “geostationary orbit” – as in, the slow, expensive and severely data-restricted service that continues to represent the broadband of last resort.
The map can still get things wrong.
Fortunately, the new map also includes a mechanism for people to flag incorrect data. And its table of theoretically-available providers will indicate that somebody’s already filed a challenge to one service’s listing with a gold circle under a “Chall” heading that reports the number of challenges in the books.
A completely accurate map, however, could still leave a reader dismayed because it correctly conveys an unpleasant truth: At too many U.S. addresses, broadband either remains out of reach or is only available from one company.
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That situation is getting better, in that $42 billion in broadband-buildout subsidies from the 2021 infrastructure law stand to improve rural connectivity, while many incumbent providers now face competition from upgraded fiber-optic offerings and expanding home 5G service. But for somebody stuck with a local monopoly, it can still feel like change is coming with DSL sluggishness.
Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is broadband available in your area? How to check using new FCC map.