As Digital Inclusion Week continues (May 7-11, 2018), we at Connected Nation are working diligently to improve lives by providing innovative solutions that expand the access, adoption, and use of high-speed internet and its related technologies to all people – we believe that everyone belongs in a Connected Nation.
However, as Digital Inclusion Week highlights, there is still much work to be done to ensure all people have this access and the tools they need to use it.
Unfortunately, even as significant progress has been made to educate people on the life-changing uses of broadband for education, public safety, telehealth, and the workforce in general, there are many areas across the country still lacking broadband service. Even as broadband speeds continue to increase, the areas without even basic broadband speeds remain in the Digital Divide and unable to take advantage of the socioeconomic benefits of broadband and related technologies.
As the broadband access component must first be addressed in some areas, it is essential that more accurate and granular broadband data be available to assist communities lacking service. The Digital Divide cannot be closed without accurate data on where the divide truly exists.
Why We Need to Change How We Measure Digital Inclusion
Currently, the FCC obtains broadband service area information from broadband providers in their Form 477 filings. Unfortunately, the data isn’t sufficiently granular to adequately inform policy or other decision-making on the federal, state, and especially the local levels. Since the Form 477 filing is by census block boundary, if even one household in a census block is served by broadband, the entire census block displays as having service, leading to significant overstatement of broadband availability.
The Form 477 broadband dataset is not sufficient for broadband planning and closing the Digital Divide, especially in rural areas. While a good portion of census blocks are less than 2 square miles in area, census blocks in rural areas can be exponentially larger; there are even a few larger than the entire state of Connecticut! More granular and accurate broadband mapping must be completed in order to better understand where the gaps are located so that we can work together to close them.
As census block level broadband mapping is not sufficient for local community planning, we must strive for better data. At Connected Nation, we use a combination of provider-supplied information, field validation by telecom engineers, and consumer feedback from citizens letting us know where services are and are not available. This setup leads to more accurate and granular broadband mapping without increasing the burden on providers who may not have the resources to develop such geographic datasets.
Increasing the granularity of broadband data helps close the Digital Divide by accurately identifying the gaps in service; then these areas can be made eligible for federal subsidies, grant/loan programs, and other expansion opportunities. The goal of Digital Inclusion for all cannot be reached until the communities lacking broadband are properly mapped and solutions to get them connected are identified.
About the Author: Ashley Hitt is the Director of GIS Services for Connected Nation. She oversees the day-to-day operations of the GIS team. She’s responsible for developing strategies using GIS to provide data visualization solutions that impact policy, economic development, and the digital divide.
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