WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The federal government has grant money available to help expand broadband internet access, but recent doubts cast on the Federal Communication Commission’s access mapping is causing a glitch in distribution.
At least 19 million Americans live in areas without access to high-speed internet. In some rural areas, nearly a quarter of homes aren’t connected.
“These areas are just like a third-world country. They just don’t have the service available,” said Dan Stelpflug, the director of operations for engineering and technology at the Iowa-based Allamakee Clayton Electric Cooperative. “They can’t thrive in this day and age. They need access to broadband so they can have access to telemedicine, telemetrics, farmers have access to markets, kids have access to do their homework.”
The federal government is trying to fix the problem by offering grants to companies like Allamakee Clayton to build networks in small communities.
But according to a study by Microsoft, millions of homes aren’t properly counted in the FCC’s maps meant to show who has access to broadband and who doesn’t. That means money isn’t getting to some areas where it’s needed most.
“It’s surprising that in this day and age the mapping isn’t more accurate,” Stelpflug said.
He testified Tuesday before Congress, urging lawmakers and the FCC to fix the maps to make sure every home is properly counted.
“We would love to have these maps be accurate and have the money available to build the infrastructure,” Stelpflug said.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai agrees the maps need work. Earlier this month, he announced an effort to find better ways of counting homes without broadband.
“It’s great that FCC understands that this is an issue but it’s not just enough take their word for it,” Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, said.
She said that if the FCC doesn’t come up with a solution, Congress will.
“We do have to actually take these steps to make sure that we have it in code here how this stuff is getting done so that states like Iowa aren’t left behind,” she said.
Lawmakers are debating several plans to force the FCC to change its practices before grant money is distributed nationwide.