Broadband Subsidy: What’s Going Where
The next phase of broadband universal service funding will pay $9 billion to the nation’s largest telecommunications companies to provide better broadband service to an estimated 7.3 million hard-to-reach rural customers. Data could help you track projects in your part of rural America.
Could any of the recently announced $9 billion in broadband subsidies be used to help improve high-speed Internet connections in your community?
It’s hard to say for sure. But new data from the Federal Communications Commission can give us a pretty good idea of where new federal subsidies could help deliver Internet service to hard-to-reach locations. This subsidy, part of the Connect America Fund, supports the nation’s largest telecommunications businesses like AT&T, Verizon, and Centurylink.
First, the map at the top (or the interactive version to the right) shows you how much of this Connect America funding is likely to be spent to improve service in a given county. The darker green the county, the more proposed spending there will be on broadband projects there. Unshaded counties either had no qualifying customers, were served by a different Connect America program that subsidizes smaller phone companies, or are served by Verizon, whose data is not yet part of the FCC package.
In the interactive version (also located at the bottom of this story), click on a county to see the approximate dollar figures and the number of businesses or homes potentially served by the subsidized build-outs of broadband.
Take a Closer Look
This county-level map helps us see where the money is flowing nationally. But the funding is supposed to support work in very specific localities, not the county at large. That’s because places that are hard to reach with broadband service don’t necessarily cover large areas. They are tucked into the corners of counties, the folds of mountains, and the crooks of rivers. (See Roberto Gallardo’s piece on the disparity in access between county seats and the rest of the county for one example.)
To see these discrete places that are supposed to be served by this infusion of funding, you need to use a different map – one produced by the FCC – that shows the proposed service overlay down to the level of roads, neighborhoods, and communities. Below is an example showing eligible areas around Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Folks familiar with Fergus Falls should have a pretty good idea from this map where the new construction is supposed to occur.
Zoom in on a community you know well, and you can tell quite a bit about what areas are supposed to be helped by Connect America funds. The FCC has tracked this data down the census block, which is small enough to show neighborhoods, main roads, and bodies of water.
The FCC warns that there will be some variability in these potential service areas. Borders could change based on how the broadband work proceeds over the six-year subsidy program. But, as a rule, carriers that accepted this subsidy must provide broadband to these areas at a minimum speed of 10 megabytes for downloads and 1 megabyte for uploads.
If the program goes as planned, we are supposed to see significantly less green on this map over the next few years. State-level goals are to complete 40% of the build-out by 2017, with additional 20% increases in service each year through 2020.
So, take a look at the FCC map, find a part of America you know, and see what happens with broadband access there.
The small town I live in isn’t eligible for any of this round of Connect America funding. But there’s a community a half-mile down the road in the Clinch River gorge that is. Now I know where to look to monitor our carrier, AT&T, and their use of Connect America funding. It’s one tiny piece of the rural broadband puzzle. But at least I know one place to start looking.
What about your community?
A note on data: The Google map showing total funding by county is based on data from eight of the 10 carriers that applied for and received funding. Verizon’s data is not available now. We also excluded Micronesian Telecom, which serves the Federated States of Micronesia.
Tim Marema is editor of the Daily Yonder. He lives in Norris, Anderson County, Tennessee.