October 21, 2021

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Broadband: FCC is Taking Steps to Accurately Map Locations That Lack Access

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<div>What GAO Found The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was tasked in the 2020 Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (Broadband DATA Act) to create a location fabric, which is a dataset of all locations or structures in the U.S. that could be served by broadband, over which broadband deployment data can be overlaid. The purpose of this data collection effort is to improve the granularity and precision of FCC's broadband deployment mapping, which will allow FCC to more precisely assess where Americans still lack access to broadband. As a start, FCC has hired a data architect and met with data companies and states to identify options. FCC has issued a request for proposals for a product to meet FCC's location fabric needs. Additionally, FCC officials said that the data company that generates the location fabric will be responsible for developing a process for state, local, and tribal entities, and others to question and correct fabric location data to improve their accuracy, as required by the law. Stakeholders GAO interviewed identified challenges FCC faces with developing a location fabric, including incomplete or conflicting data sources, but said that such challenges can be overcome by using multiple sources of data. For example, according to stakeholders, there is no one source of location data that will be sufficient for FCC and its contract data company to develop a precise location fabric; therefore, it is necessary to integrate four main types of data to have a complete location fabric, as shown in the figure. These data can be sourced from federal, state, local, and commercial sources. State-level pilots have shown that overlaying these data increases the accuracy of the location fabric and addresses the limitation that some sources have incomplete data. FCC will need to manage other challenges as well, such as use restrictions. Figure: Mapping Broadband Serviceable Locations Using the Four Key Data Types Why GAO Did This Study Broadband is critical for commercial, educational, and social functions. While most Americans have access to broadband, many still do not—a gap known as the digital divide. To help close this divide, federal programs provide funding to support broadband deployment in unserved areas. According to FCC, these programs rely on data FCC collects from broadband providers to identify which areas are and are not served to target their limited funds. However, GAO has raised concerns about FCC's data for lacking accuracy and overstating service. FCC has been measuring broadband deployment by counting an entire census block as served if a provider reports that it offers service to at least one location in the census block. This method can overstate the extent of broadband deployment if the data show that a census block has broadband but not all locations in the census block are actually served. FCC began an effort in 2017 to improve its broadband data, and, in 2020, the Broadband DATA Act required FCC to develop a location fabric. The Broadband DATA Act included a provision for GAO to assess key data sources that may be used to develop a location fabric. This report (1) describes FCC's progress in developing a location fabric; and (2) describes challenges stakeholders identified that FCC faces in developing a location fabric. GAO reviewed relevant documents; surveyed officials in 54 states and territories; and interviewed officials from data companies, broadband providers, federal agencies, and states. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or VonahA@gao.gov.</div>

What GAO Found

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was tasked in the 2020 Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (Broadband DATA Act) to create a location fabric, which is a dataset of all locations or structures in the U.S. that could be served by broadband, over which broadband deployment data can be overlaid. The purpose of this data collection effort is to improve the granularity and precision of FCC’s broadband deployment mapping, which will allow FCC to more precisely assess where Americans still lack access to broadband. As a start, FCC has hired a data architect and met with data companies and states to identify options. FCC has issued a request for proposals for a product to meet FCC’s location fabric needs. Additionally, FCC officials said that the data company that generates the location fabric will be responsible for developing a process for state, local, and tribal entities, and others to question and correct fabric location data to improve their accuracy, as required by the law.

Stakeholders GAO interviewed identified challenges FCC faces with developing a location fabric, including incomplete or conflicting data sources, but said that such challenges can be overcome by using multiple sources of data. For example, according to stakeholders, there is no one source of location data that will be sufficient for FCC and its contract data company to develop a precise location fabric; therefore, it is necessary to integrate four main types of data to have a complete location fabric, as shown in the figure. These data can be sourced from federal, state, local, and commercial sources. State-level pilots have shown that overlaying these data increases the accuracy of the location fabric and addresses the limitation that some sources have incomplete data. FCC will need to manage other challenges as well, such as use restrictions.

Figure: Mapping Broadband Serviceable Locations Using the Four Key Data Types

Why GAO Did This Study

Broadband is critical for commercial, educational, and social functions. While most Americans have access to broadband, many still do not—a gap known as the digital divide. To help close this divide, federal programs provide funding to support broadband deployment in unserved areas. According to FCC, these programs rely on data FCC collects from broadband providers to identify which areas are and are not served to target their limited funds. However, GAO has raised concerns about FCC’s data for lacking accuracy and overstating service. FCC has been measuring broadband deployment by counting an entire census block as served if a provider reports that it offers service to at least one location in the census block. This method can overstate the extent of broadband deployment if the data show that a census block has broadband but not all locations in the census block are actually served. FCC began an effort in 2017 to improve its broadband data, and, in 2020, the Broadband DATA Act required FCC to develop a location fabric.

The Broadband DATA Act included a provision for GAO to assess key data sources that may be used to develop a location fabric. This report (1) describes FCC’s progress in developing a location fabric; and (2) describes challenges stakeholders identified that FCC faces in developing a location fabric. GAO reviewed relevant documents; surveyed officials in 54 states and territories; and interviewed officials from data companies, broadband providers, federal agencies, and states.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or VonahA@gao.gov.

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    What GAO Found The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has specific designations available for planned special events that bolster security-planning processes and coordination between federal, state, and local entities. For example, these designations enhance coordination of protective anti-terrorism measures and counterterrorism assets, and restrict access. These designations include the National Special Security Event (NSSE) and the Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR). These designations were not assigned to the events occurring on January 6, 2021. The events of January 6 included 1) a non-permitted protest at the U.S. Capitol, 2) a scheduled Presidential rally at the Ellipse, and 3) a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 election results. If requested, the Presidential rally and joint session of Congress could have been considered for a designation as an NSSE or SEAR because, for example, they were large events with Presidential or Vice Presidential attendance. However, according to DHS officials, the non-permitted incident at the U.S. Capitol was not consistent with factors currently used for NSSE and SEAR designations. This non-permitted incident was not designated, even though there were other indications, such as social media posts, that additional security may have been needed at the Capitol Complex on January 6. While DHS has developed factors for designating an event an NSSE, it is not clear whether they are adaptable to the current environment of emerging threats. Being able to be dynamic and responsive to change would enable federal entities to implement better security planning. Further, although Secret Service officials stated that a request from the local government in Washington, D.C. would typically initiate consideration for an NSSE designation, D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency officials indicated that they did not think the District Government had the authority to request an NSSE designation for an event on federal property. Updating and communicating its policy for requesting an NSSE designation will help DHS ensure that relevant agencies are aware of, and understand, the process for requesting such event designations and may help to better secure the Capitol Complex and other federal properties in the future.  Why GAO Did This Study The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 resulted in assaults on approximately 140 police officers, and about $1.5 million in damages, according to information from the Department of Justice and the U.S. Capitol Police. In addition, the events of the day led to at least seven deaths. Questions have been raised about the extent to which necessary steps were taken to adequately secure the Capitol Complex, and share intelligence information. We have a body of work underway that examines the preparation, coordination, and response on January 6, that we will begin issuing over the next several months. GAO was asked to review, among other things, coordination between federal and local entities for security and emergency support for events at the U.S. Capitol and surrounding areas on January 6, 2021. Specifically, this report examines the extent to which federal, state, and local government entities requested a special event designation for the planned events of January 6, 2021 to include: (1) the definition of an NSSE and its designation process; (2) the definition of SEAR and its designation process; (3) the characteristics of past NSSE and SEAR events; (4) the applicability of NSSE and SEAR designations to the events of January 6 and the extent to which they were considered; and, (5) why NSSE and SEAR designations were not considered for the events of January 6. GAO reviewed policies and processes for DHS special event designations, interviewed officials from relevant agencies, and examined DHS data on recent events that received special event designations.
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  • University of Miami to Pay $22 Million to Settle Claims Involving Medically Unnecessary Laboratory Tests and Fraudulent Billing Practices
    In Crime News
    The University of Miami (UM) has agreed to pay $22 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by ordering medically unnecessary laboratory tests, and submitting false claims through its laboratory and off campus hospital based facilities (“Hospital Facilities”).
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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