Tester’s Push for Rural Broadband Expansion in Montana Clears Committee Hurdle, Now One Step Closer to President’s Desk

Senator’s bill requiring broadband providers to fix inaccurate coverage maps clears Senate Committee

U.S. Senator Jon Tester has some great news for rural America just in time for harvest season: his legislation to make broadband mapping more accurate—and coverage gaps clearer—passed a key committee hurdle today and is one step closer to becoming law.

The Tester-backed Broadband DATA Act includes several key measures that will help expand rural broadband by directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build more accurate broadband coverage maps. For too long inaccurate mapping has allowed broadband providers to claim they cover rural areas when they actually don’t, disqualifying these areas from receiving the federal funding they need to get connected. The bill creates public feedback mechanisms that allow consumers to challenge inaccuracies, and assists local and Tribal broadband providers with data submission.

“Back in Big Sandy, my neighbor could be connected to broadband while my house remains in the dark, even though the government’s maps say we’re both covered,” said Tester. “Accurate, granular data is critical for Congress and the Commission to identify where broadband coverage needs improving, and this bill will allow us to get up-to-date information so we aren’t leaving rural communities behind.”

The Broadband DATA Act incorporates provisions from Tester’s bipartisan Broadband Data Improvement Act to improve coverage mapping. It creates a singular Broadband Map from granular data collected by the FCC and third-parties that will be updated biannually and instructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consult this map before distributing funding. It also develops an online system where incorrect data can be challenged and regularly updated, and requires regular audits of provider-submitted data using crowdsourcing for verification.

Accurate and granular data will enable federal agencies to target funding to the areas that need it most, close remaining coverage gaps, and ensure accountability and transparency. The Broadband DATA Act forces the FCC to issue new rules for collecting deployment data from broadband providers and makes it easier for individuals and other entities to challenge coverage maps in a way that is non-burdensome. The FCC will be ordered to submit a report to Congress on their efforts to enforce new rules on providers that knowingly and intentionally misreport data.

As the only working farmer in the Senate, Tester is leading the charge to expand rural broadband. Earlier this month, he pushed the FCC to take concrete steps to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps after grilling Chairman Ajit Pai on the agency’s inaction to expand broadband in rural areas during a recent Commerce Committee hearing.

Full text for the Broadband DATA Act is available HERE.