The FCC releases its first mobile broadband map

The tool allows you to compare the coverage areas of the nation's four largest carriers.

Daniel White via Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released its first-ever mobile broadband coverage map. The tool allows you to compare the LTE and voice coverage areas of the country’s four largest carriers, showing where you can expect to see wireless download and upload speeds of at least 5 Mbps and 1 Mbps, respectively.

The data you see on the map is accurate as of May 15th, 2021, and you can use the tool to compare what coverage looks like in your area away from the often misleading and confusing maps offered by AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon (Engadget’s parent company). The tool is the result of last year’s Broadband DATA Act, which requires the FCC to collect and release robust data comparing different wired, fixed-wireless, satellite and mobile broadband service providers. To compile the map, the FCC collected standardized propagation information from the carriers. It also asked the public to help.

“This map provides a preview of how the mobile data the FCC will collect under the standards set by the Broadband DATA Act will look when mapped,” the agency said. “Never before have maps been created using these new, standardized mobile data specifications, which will improve the uniformity and consistency of broadband availability data collected by the FCC.”

The map isn’t perfect. For example, you can’t see the extent of each carrier’s current 5G buildouts. But it’s hard to overstate just how much of an improvement this new tool is over what the FCC offered previously. To put things into context. In 2019, Microsoft estimated that 163 million Americans couldn’t access the internet at or above broadband speeds. Meanwhile, the FCC put that number closer to 25 million.

That discrepancy was the direct result of how the FCC compiled its data at the time. It relied on Form 477 filings from the service providers, which could include errors and exaggerations. FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel says the new mobile broadband map is just the start of what the agency has planned on that front.