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Peters Introduces Bill to Expand Broadband Deployment Using Accurate Coverage Maps

Bipartisan Bill Requires FCC to ensure Broadband Coverage Maps Reflect the Real-World Experiences of Rural Consumers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017 to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect up-to-date and accurate data on wireless broadband coverage across the United States and especially in rural areas.

“Having an accurate assessment of which rural areas are most in need of wireless broadband coverage is critical to closing the digital divide, but the availability of broadband coverage can be difficult to assess,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill to strengthen data collection for wireless broadband coverage so we can best direct federal resources to the places where it needs to be improved the most, helping rural Michigan residents start businesses, access educational resources and stay connected with the world.”

“While Congress has mandated that consumers in rural America must have access to comparable services, there is still much work to be done to make this a reality in West Virginia,” Senator Manchin said. “This legislation is an important step towards ensuring our ongoing efforts to close the broadband gap are guided by a realistic understanding of the mobile broadband coverage currently available to rural consumers. We must target the areas that remain in need of this critical support and deliver on the promise of universal service.”

“I have consistently expressed concern that FCC’s data does not reflect the real mobile broadband experience of consumers in rural America,” Senator Wicker said. “This bill would address that problem by directing the Commission to improve the accuracy of the data it collects. This is an important step to ensure federal funds are spent on deploying broadband in communities that truly need it.”

“We can’t close the digital divide if we don’t know where the problem is,” Senator Schatz said. “This bill will help us understand which communities still have bad wireless broadband coverage, so that we can move ahead and fix it.”

“The current broadband mapping system isn’t working. It’s leaving too many of our nation’s rural communities without the connectivity they need for success. The bipartisan Rural Wireless Access Act we are introducing today will help improve the collection and accuracy of wireless coverage data. Gaining more reliable information will play a pivotal role in expanding coverage to our rural areas, which will help more Nebraska families access the broadband service they need,” Senator Fischer said.

“Millions of rural Americans in Kansas and many other states depend on the promise of mobile broadband buildout efforts, and this critical expansion depends on the accuracy of current coverage data and uniformity in how it is collected,” said Senator Moran. “As we work to close the broadband gap, our providers must have standardized, clear data so they can plan out ways to reach communities most in need of access.”

According to the FCC, 87 percent of rural Americans - 52.2 million people - lack access to mobile broadband with minimum advertised speeds of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps, compared to 45 percent of those living in urban areas. According to Connect Michigan, 44 percent of working-age Michigan adults rely on internet access to seek or apply for jobs, while 22 percent further their education by taking online classes.

Earlier this year, Peters, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, joined a bipartisan group of Senators to send a letter urging the FCC to update the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) Mobility Fund to prioritize new mobile broadband deployment in rural and underserved areas. Peters and his colleagues sent a similar letter last year. Last Congress, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a Peters’ amendment to update the National Broadband Map by requiring the FCC to report on existing data collection practices for fixed and mobile broadband coverage and offer recommendations for improvements.