How Good are the New FCC Maps?

The long-promised new FCC maps came out recently, and everybody rushed to see what the maps said about their own home. But a lot of folks looked deeper to try to understand the difference between this and earlier maps. There are two ways to judge the maps – the mapping fabric and the broadband coverage story.

The mapping fabric represents the FCC’s attempt to count the number of locations with or without broadband. They chose to do this by trying to put every potential broadband customer on the FCC map. The FCC hired CostQuest to create the mapping fabric, and the company used a variety of data sources to pinpoint locations on the fabric.

The State of Vermont has already sent a challenge letter to the FCC that says that 11% of the locations in the FCC mapping Fabric don’t match Vermont’s own data. Even worse, Vermont says that 22% of locations it knows about are missing from the FCC map.

I looked at my own neighborhood, which is deep inside Asheville, NC. My neighborhood was established one hundred years ago, and as I expected, most homes are shown on the FCC map. But the FCC maps did not show several new homes that were built here in the last few years. My guess is that the FCC maps generally do better in cities than in suburbs and total areas.

Vermont also looked at the broadband coverage claims by ISPs. According to the new maps, over 95% of Vermont homes have access broadband to broadband of at least 100/20 Mbps. The State created its own broadband maps, which show that only 71% of homes in the state could receive broadband at 100 Mbps or faster at the end of 2021. In looking at the data, the difference seems to come from claims on the new FCC maps that satellite and fixed wireless broadband can reach huge numbers of folks – something that is not true in hilly and wooded Vermont. There also are ISPs that have claimed speeds that are faster than what the State believes is being delivered.

Industry folks have said all along that the new maps are not going to be any better than the old ones if an ISP can claim any marketing speed it wants with no repercussions for exaggerating speeds. There seems to be a lot of work still needed if the new maps are going to be used to allocate BEAD funding to states and, more importantly, to define areas that are eligible for grant funding.

On a local level, the new reporting is interesting. For example, in looking around my city, I can now find the little pockets where AT&T has built a few blocks of fiber. There was no way in the past to be this granular. The new maps are going to drive a lot of folks crazy to see that fiber is only a block away.

The new maps also let me look at Charter’s coverage in more detail than ever before. It’s been said for years that the big cable companies don’t serve everybody in cities, and assuming that Charter is reporting coverage accurately, this can now be verified. I found little pockets all around my city where Charter doesn’t serve. The old FCC reporting by Census block normally showed everybody in a metropolitan area having access to cable company broadband. The new map also shows at the edges of the city how Charter hops over some neighborhoods to serve others that are farther out.

My own house shows a lot of ISP options, some of which don’t really exist. For example, there are several WISPs shown as covering my neighborhood. There is no way that is possible from where the towers are located due to the large hills in the city that creates huge wireless dead zones. The cellular broadband speeds reported were a little more accurate. Verizon doesn’t show coverage at my home at all – which is true since there are also zero bars of voice coverage at my end of the block. I’m not sure why T-Mobile even bothers reporting the 0.2 Mbps speeds – that might be true – but isn’t that really zero broadband? The satellite speeds reported at my house are improbable in a city surrounded by a bowl of mountains and a lot of trees.

For those who haven’t looked yet, here is the new map. I’d be interested to hear from anybody who was surprised by what the maps show for your home.

2 thoughts on “How Good are the New FCC Maps?

  1. I put in current and previous addresses where I have lived, and a few addresses of friends and family. They all report “excellent” (green dot) service. Hurray for the tech providers!! If only this was true.

    Our homes in suburban WDC show excellent service, as do my previous addresses in suburban Boston.
    Addresses in northern NY and northern NH show as excellent, but since these locales have traditionally had bottom-rate landline service, it is hard to believe that they now possess multiple vibrant carriers… but hey, you can teach pigs to fly — no?

    I know that the results shown for Monticello NY, in Sullivan County in the Catskills, is specious at best. The map shows five providers, of which I am sure there are two — Charter and T-Mobile. Our friends there are in a constant fight with unstable access (presumably on Charter), and having T-Mobile cell service, I know their coverage in that area is problematic at best.

    Question — Did CostQuest actually go out and find their own data, or did they just rely on carrier-provided reports?

  2. The idiots show that my house and the wood shed both have green coverage as does the whole town. All serviced by 3 different satellite providers one of which claims 10M/1M service. Starlink shows 350M/40M in a cloudy area in the winter time. I doubt that Starlink can deliver what they advertise. It is nice to know that if I actually had power to the wood shed I could surf the internet while stacking wood.

    No wired or wifi service available according to the map. I know that First Step Internet will provide a wireless internet service 12M/2M for $75 a month if you can get it which actually makes the Starlink look like a bargain at $110 a month if you want to get screwed for $600 for the equipment and want to try and keep the snow off of the receiver.

    First Step also has a Standard 2.4GHz or 5GHz wireless service that is 8M/4M at $80. What a Joke.

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