The primary reason for my amusement is that FCC maps are created from self-reported broadband coverage and speeds by the many ISPs in the country. ISPs have a variety of motivations for how and why they report data to the FCC. Some ISPs try to report accurate speeds and coverage. People may be surprised by this, but some of the biggest telcos, like CenturyLink and Frontier, seem to have gotten better at reporting DSL speeds – in some markets, you can find DSL capability being reported at a dozen different speeds to reflect that DSL speeds vary by the distance from the central office.
Other ISPs take the exact opposite approach and report marketing speeds that are far in excess of the capability of the technology being deployed. It’s not hard to find WISPs claiming 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps download capability when they are delivering speeds in the 10 Mbps to 30 Mbps range. My guess is that some of these ISPs are using the FCC maps as an advertisement to get customers to call them after looking at the FCC map. Some ISPs have already been accused of over-reporting speeds to try to block grant money from overbuilding them.
There are also endless examples of ISPs reporting coverage that doesn’t exist. The FCC mapping rules say that only locations that can be served within ten business days should be included in broadband coverage areas, and many ISPs are claiming much larger areas than they can serve quickly. Even worse, some ISPs claim coverage in areas that they can’t serve, such as when WISPs claim coverage of homes that are blocked from line-of-sight by hills or other impediments.
The only way that AI could be used to improve the maps is if the FCC gets serious about mapping and changes some rules, and enforces others. The FCC would have to eliminate the ability of ISPs to claim marketing speeds, which provides easy cover for overstating capabilities. The FCC would also have to get serious about enforcing coverage to meet the 10-day installation rule. If those two changes were made and enforced, the FCC might be able to use AI to improve the maps. AI could match claimed ISP coverage to speed test data and also reference and compare coverage to complaints and challenges from consumers. I don’t see the FCC ever being willing to get that aggressive with ISPs – because this process would be extremely contentious.
I don’t believe any of this will ever happen because after the wave of BEAD funding is finally spent, the FCC and everybody else is going to lose interest in the broadband maps. Nobody will care if some ISP overstates capabilities in an area as long as the BEAD winner is going to bring faster broadband.
There are already a number of State Broadband offices that are saying that the BEAD allocations are not going to be enough to fix broadband everywhere. My prediction is that states that care about fixing the remaining places will create their own broadband maps and will go back to ignoring the FCC maps.
The FCC won’t care. At the point where they can say with a straight face that 95% of homes will be be able to buy broadband that meets the FCC’s definition of broadband, the FCC is going to declare job done. For the last decade, the FCC has issued annual broadband reports to Congress that have said that the state of broadband is good and improving – all based upon maps that everybody knew were grossly overstated in both broadband speeds and coverage. I can’t see the FCC putting extra effort into proving that there are still homes left without good broadband.