The FCC's new, more accurate broadband maps may lead to improved coverage

The new data is key to $42.5 billion in high-speed internet grants.

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The Federal Communications Commission has finally published new broadband maps after a protracted development process. The "pre-production draft" release, as the FCC describes it, promises much more accurate representations of fixed internet coverage across the US. Earlier maps would only show service at the census block level, sometimes ignoring large gaps in real-world connectivity. The new maps are accurate enough that you can search by address to see which carriers are available, including the maximum claimed speeds.

The updated maps could help would-be subscribers make more informed choices about broadband service, the FCC says. They'll also theoretically add "market pressures" to internet providers who may have considered an area served if just one home in a census block was connected. Now, they may be compelled to flesh out coverage in a town or neighborhood.

The data could also prove crucial to the federal government's funding strategy. The US has yet to portion out the $42.5 billion in broadband spending from President Biden's $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. With more accurate maps, officials can now make better-informed decisions about where that money goes. It may be particularly important for upgrading rural broadband, which has historically been inconsistently available and slow.

The FCC cautions that there's more work to be done. The draft status indicates that the mapping work is "far from over," according to the regulator. The agency warns that this may only be effective if there's constant input from everyone involved, ranging from customers through to local governments and companies. Poor updates will render the maps ineffective, in other words.

There are also questions surrounding long-term funding and policy. While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law may help, there are no guarantees of further commitments in the years ahead. The broadband maps only promise to show where coverage falls short — it's up to politicians, regulators and companies to address any shortcomings.