Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate yesterday would require the FCC to “collect broadband coverage data that is valid, consistent and robust” so as to improve agency efforts to target new broadband services to rural and other underserved areas.

Sponsored by seven Senate lawmakers that include Roger Wicker (R-MS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Joe Manchin (DWV), the Rural Wireless Act of 2017 would give the FCC 180 days to adopt “a methodology that shall apply to the collection of coverage data by the Commission” for the purpose of implementing universal service fund and similar programs. The prescribed methodology must (1) include “standard definitions for different speed tiers, such as the 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G LTE tiers,” (2) improve the efficiency of coverage data collection efforts, (3) ensure broadband coverage data is “collected in a consistent and robust way,” and (4) boost the reliability and validity of broadband coverage data. The sponsors emphasized that “standardized data is necessary to ensure that policies to expand broadband deployment accurately target the unserved and underserved communities and account for the mobile coverage experience of those living in the most remote parts of the country.”

Manchin hailed the legislation as “an important step toward ensuring [that] our ongoing efforts to close the broadband gap are guided by a realistic understanding of the mobile broadband coverage currently available to rural consumers.” Applauding the measure, Competitive Carriers Association CEO Steve Berry stressed, “the first step to expanding mobile broadband services is identifying where sufficient mobile service is not currently available, and it is absolutely critical that important programs like Mobility Fund II use reliable, standardized data to ensure no consumer is left behind.”