Submitted by Senator Roger Wicker
“Getting these maps right is critical because they determine where future broadband efforts will be concentrated,” Wicker writes.
Few things have changed our world like the Internet. Today, millions of Americans use the Internet to find jobs, learn more, manage their savings, read the news, and keep in touch with family and friends. Unfortunately, too many Mississippi residents don’t enjoy these benefits because they don’t have access to a broadband connection. This discrepancy exists because federal broadband investments have mostly gone to cities, leaving many rural areas behind. Since coming to Congress, I have consistently fought to change that trend and bring faster broadband connections to our underserved and underserved communities, and I have used my leadership role on the Senate Commerce Committee to advance that goal. Recently, one of my top legislative priorities came into play, paving the way for better Internet access throughout Mississippi.
On November 18, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released new and improved broadband maps showing where broadband is available and at what speeds. These maps were badly needed after years of misreporting. For example, in 2018, the FCC claimed that Mississippi had 98 percent mobile broadband coverage — an absurd claim for anyone who has lived or traveled in rural Mississippi. This flawed data made it difficult for us to get the broadband investments we needed from the federal government. To address this issue, I wrote the Broadband DATA Act, which requires the FCC to create more accurate maps and update them regularly. Congress passed the law in 2020, resulting in the newly released maps. Because of this crucial piece of legislation, Mississippi is now in a much stronger position to attract broadband investment.
FCC needs to hear from Mississippi citizens
The FCC’s new cards are a big step forward, but they’re far from perfect. According to some reports, entire communities are still missing from the maps. It is vital that we make every effort to address these bugs by providing feedback to the FCC. The good news is that any resident can now easily challenge the maps if they believe their broadband coverage is being misreported. If a challenge is successful, the FCC must repair the card.
Getting these maps right is crucial as they determine where future broadband efforts will be concentrated. For example, if the FCC allocates broadband dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it will allocate them based on the June 2023 maps. This short time horizon makes it imperative that we file disputes as soon as possible. I encourage all Mississippi residents to verify their home or business address on the FCC card website. Just go to broadbandmap.fcc.gov, type in the address and see if the reported coverage is correct. Residents can submit a challenge by clicking “Location Challenge” if the location is missing, or “Availability Challenge” if the coverage information is incorrect.
Broadband money is coming to Mississippi
As negotiator of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, I helped secure at least $100 million in broadband funding for Mississippi. In addition to these funds, Mississippi will continue to benefit from targeted investments from the USDA’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and Reconnect program, which recently awarded $30 million to seven rural Mississippi counties. This investment will bring high-speed internet to an estimated 11,000 people, 100 businesses and 367 farms. As long as rural areas remain underserved, I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to bring broadband to every corner of Mississippi.
Submitted by Senator Roger Wicker