Submitted by Senator Roger Wicker
“Getting these maps right is critical because they will determine where future broadband efforts are focused,” Wicker writes.
Few things have changed our world like the internet. Today, millions of Americans use the web to find jobs, get an education, manage their savings, read the news, and stay in touch with family and friends. Unfortunately, too many Mississippians do not enjoy these benefits because they lack access to a broadband connection. This disparity exists because federal broadband investment has gone mainly to cities, leaving many rural areas behind. Since coming to Congress, I have fought consistently to change this trend and bring faster broadband to our unserved and underserved communities, and I have used my leadership role on the Senate Commerce Committee to advance this goal. Recently, one of my top legislative priorities came to fruition, paving the way for better internet access across 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 greatly needed after years of flawed reporting. In 2018, for example, the FCC claimed that Mississippi enjoyed 98 percent mobile broadband coverage – an absurd claim to anyone who has lived or traveled in rural Mississippi. This flawed data made it harder for us to receive federal the broadband investments we needed. To fix this problem, I authored the Broadband DATA Act, which requires the FCC to create more accurate maps and to update them regularly. Congress passed the bill into law in 2020, resulting in the newly released maps. Because of this pivotal law, Mississippi is now in a much stronger position to attract broadband investment.
FCC Needs to Hear From Mississippians
The FCC’s new maps are a big step forward, but they are still far from perfect. According to some reports, whole communities are still missing from the maps. It is crucial that we make every effort to fix these errors 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 will be required to fix the map.
Getting these maps right is critical because they will determine where future broadband efforts are focused. For example, when the FCC awards broadband dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it will allocate them based on what the maps look like in June 2023. This short time horizon makes it urgent that we file challenges as soon as possible. I encourage all Mississippians to check their home or business address on the FCC maps website. Simply go to broadbandmap.fcc.gov, then type in the address and see if the reported coverage is accurate. 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 Coming to Mississippi
As a negotiator of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, I helped secure a minimum of $100 million in broadband funding for Mississippi. In addition to these funds, Mississippi will continue to benefit from targeted investments from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and the USDA’s Reconnect program, which recently awarded $30 million to seven rural counties in Mississippi. This investment will bring high-speed internet to an estimated 11,000 people, 100 businesses, and 367 farms. As long as rural areas continue to be underserved, I will keep using every tool at my disposal to bring broadband to every corner of Mississippi.
Submitted by Senator Roger Wicker