Tester’s Push for Rural Broadband Expansion in Montana Passes Congress, Heads to President’s Desk

Senator’s bill will expand rural broadband, direct the FCC to build more accurate coverage maps

Rural America is one step closer to better broadband coverage after U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s bill to make broadband mapping more accurate cleared the United States Senate this week and heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“In rural America, broadband infrastructure plays a critical role in everything from ensuring telehealth opportunities to economic development,” said Tester. “The problem is, back in Big Sandy, my neighbor could be connected to broadband while my house remains in the dark, even if the government’s maps say we’re both covered. This legislation will fill in those gaps with accurate, granular data about where we need to improve broadband networks, and it will ensure rural communities have the broadband infrastructure they need to thrive.”

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 do not, disqualifying frontier communities 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.

The Broadband DATA Act incorporates provisions from Tester’s bipartisan Broadband Data Improvement Act to improve coverage mapping. It will create a singular broadband map from granular data collected by the FCC and third-parties that will be updated biannually, and it instructs the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to consult this map before distributing funding. Additionally, it develops an online system where incorrect data can be challenged and regularly updated, and it 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 a working farmer in an area with spotty cell service, Tester has led the charge for bringing reliable wireless service to rural America and has been skeptical of the FCC’s recent push to build out 5G infrastructure in frontier communities. Recently, he sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC demanding they focus their efforts on providing reliable broadband to rural areas. Following reports that the FCC does not have the skilled workforce necessary to build 5G broadband infrastructure across the country, Tester grilled Commissioner Brenden Carr on the agency’s plan to address the shortage, and he introduced legislation to ensure there are enough trained workers to fill next-generation jobs in the telecommunications industry in rural America.