The issue of broadband availability (or lack thereof) in the US has generated a lot of debate and criticism, especially the way in which the FCC had been defining whether an area had access to broadband. Their definition had been that if at least one address within a ZIP code has broadband service, then the whole ZIP code is counted. In addition, the minimum speed which was considered “broadband” was as low as 200 kbps. So, the new broadband mapping plan approved this week is a recognition that the current FCC dataset is just not adequate, and now the FCC will try to map availability by speed for each Census Tract. For those of you who are not familiar with how the Census breaks down the US into geographical units, a census block is the smallest unit within the Census data and often corresponds to a city block, a block group is several census blocks together, and a census tract is usually made up of several census blocks. So, while not the finest resolution data, it is still much more detailed than a ZIP code in most areas.
The bill that was passed by the House back in November, HR 3919: the Broadband Census of America Act, addressed this very issue, but has still not made it out of committee in the Senate, so it’s possible that the FCC is trying to head off being forced to implement a new plan by legislation.