GAO Releases Report Highlighting FCC Data that Overstates Broadband Access in Indian Country

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GAO Releases Report Highlighting FCC Data that Overstates Broadband Access in Indian Country

September 13, 2018

New Report on Indian Country Broadband Access with Recommendations for FCC

High speed internet promotes economic development, education, and public health and safety; however, Indian Country trails the rest of the country by a significant margin when it comes to broadband availability. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the accuracy of broadband accessibility data in Indian Country and how the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) data can be improved. The report found that the gap may be even wider than previously understood due to current FCC data collection methods and a lack of tribal input.

NAFOA contributed to the GAO report, which aimed to understand data challenges and provides specific recommendations for the FCC, including:

  • Develop and implement methods—such as a targeted data collection—for collecting and reporting accurate and complete data on broadband access specific to tribal lands.
  • Develop a formal process to obtain tribal input on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data that includes outreach and technical assistance to help tribes participate. 
  • Obtain feedback from tribal stakeholders and providers on the effectiveness of FCC’s 2012 tribal engagement statement.

“Residents of tribal lands have lower levels of broadband Internet access relative to the U.S. as a whole, but the digital divide may be greater than currently thought. FCC data overstated tribes' broadband availability and access to broadband service,” commented Sascha Meinrath, Director of X-Lab. “These overstatements limit FCC and tribal users' ability to target broadband funding to tribal lands."

Background

Broadband commonly refers to high speed Internet access with an “always-on” connection. The FCC collects data on broadband availability to determine where providers have infrastructure in place. However, as discussed in the GAO report, the FCC considers broadband to be “available” for an entire census block if a provider could serve at least one location in the census block – not whether the provider does indeed serve a specific location, let alone the entire census block. This method regularly leads to overstatements of service on tribal lands, which can have adverse effects on funding for tribes, since the FCC provides funding for unserved areas based on the broadband data they collect from providers.

Further, the FCC does not collect information on broadband affordability, quality, and denials of service, all of which can affect whether tribal members access broadband services. These factors, combined with the reporting method above, lead to the appearance of an Indian Country that is more connected than it actually is.

Lastly, the report noted that the FCC does not have a formal process to collect feedback from tribes on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data. The FCC has previously highlighted the need for a targeted approach to improve broadband availability data in Indian Country, as well as the importance of working with tribes to ensure that information is accurate and useful. However, tribal stakeholders raised concerns that the FCC relies too heavily, or in some cases relies solely, on data from providers without input from tribes, leading to an inaccurate picture of broadband accessibility.

If you have questions, please contact Ryan Ward at (202) 594-6593 or Ryan@Nafoa.org.


Resources:

Government Accountability Office Report - FCC's Data Overstate Access on Tribal Lands