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Feds Are Underestimating Vermont's Broadband Problems, Officials Say

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Published December 20, 2022 at 12:51 p.m.


TIM NEWCOMB ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Tim Newcomb ©️ Seven Days

Vermont officials are challenging the accuracy of a national broadband map issued by the Federal Communications Commission and say the state stands to lose out on federal aid if it's not corrected.

Officials will hold a press conference on Wednesday, December 21, to call on the FCC to push back its deadline for challenges to its map. The map is crucial to Vermont because federal funding decisions through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program will be based on the data it reflects.

Vermont will receive at least $100 million through the program. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was a key player in establishing state minimums during negotiations. Now, Vermont officials also want the feds to release that $100 million immediately.

An additional $37.1 billion is up for grabs based on the number of unserved locations. The map indicates that more than 95 percent of Vermont households have access to broadband internet, but officials say that's an error. The Vermont Community Broadband Board found that about 20,000 addresses shown as having high-speed internet do not. Each of those locations is worth $5,000 to $10,000 dollars in federal funding.

“We want to make sure that we get every single penny that is due to us,” said Rob Fish, deputy director of the board. “When we saw how much they had gotten wrong, we were at a bit of a loss.”

The Vermont Department of Public Service already sent a challenge to the FCC in October. The FCC relied on “self-reported data” and propagation modeling — a tool for estimating broadband speed — to build its map, which the state’s public service board argues make for unreliable data.

In a statement on Tuesday, FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel said, "This is a beginning, not an endpoint, for the new era of broadband maps."

Vermont officials say the FCC is using the advertised maximum speed of a given provider to calculate reliability versus the actual speed. There are other issues: One of the self-reporting internet service providers in Vermont admitted that it provided the FCC with addresses that it hopes to serve, rather than addresses it currently serves. 

Vermont's own broadband data describes a very different situation. It's  compiled using information collected by the E-911 board, which uses 911 calls to geolocate addresses.

“We have a very high confidence that this data is accurate,” said Corey Chase, telecommunications infrastructure specialist for the state Public Service Department. 

The Vermont Broadband Board is asking Vermonters to file a “location challenge'' or an “availability challenge” for their address on the commission's website by January 13. Video instructions for doing so can be found there. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Leahy have all issued statements urging residents to do their part in updating the inaccurate map.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Fish admitted. “That’s why we’re counting on Vermonters.”

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