Inhabitants of rural areas in Texas complain about inaccurate broadband coverage mapping

The US government is willing to help its citizens inhabiting rural areas with access to broadband internet. To be able to direct the resources specifically to the uncovered locations, the administration needs accurate information about the existing coverage. However, the inhabitants lacking broadband access complain about the inaccuracy of the data provided in fill-in forms by operators, resulting in a significant variation between the reality and theoretical coverage maps, reported Texas Public Radio. A crowdsourcing internet measurement tool could help citizens living in rural areas to get their broadband internet connections and the government to guarantee that the resources are spent efficiently.

Rural areas, not only in the US but in general, usually lack investments in broadband infrastructure by for-profit companies, as the connecting of sparsely populated areas is not profitable enough. At the same time the dependence of users on a broadband connection increases, like for example in the medical field, new patients are asked to fill-in forms online or patients are encouraged to go online to check medical test results.

According to an official statistic, prepared based on the data provided by internet service providers (ISPs) in a special fill-in Form 477 of the regulator FCC, almost 25 million people in the US do not have internet access with at least 25 Mbps, including 1.8 million in Texas. However, the 24.7 million is significantly lower than the number presented by Microsoft, showing that 162.8 million people do not use high-speed internet.

The coverage maps usually show a higher coverage than is available in practice. The maps were last updated in 2018 after three years but they need to be updated again now. According to Jessica Rosenworcel, commissioner with the FCC, the maps were built with faulty data. E. g. if a provider says one person has access in a census tract, then the whole tract is considered served. Rosenworcel said the FCC should not rely only on self-reporting from ISPs but to crowdsource the data.

The inaccuracies concern not only the fixed internet but also mobile connections.

In reaction to the incorrect coverage maps, some Texas communities are creating their own maps to correct the record. The Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETOG) has set aside USD 500,000 to research coverage and survey residents to figure out what access looks like and a plan on how to get it in their communities. According to Lonnie Hunt, executive director of DETCOG, they are trying to demonstrate and prove they do not have coverage there.

The FCC said they have three broadband providers, but many people in the area said they don’t have any. The broadband coverage is often limited to highways. Remote areas, such as farms and ranches, are left only with satellite technology, but this alternative is slow and costly.

We in Specure strongly agree that deploying an objective, ISP-independent crowdsourcing internet measurement tool, such as Open Nettest, can help the government efficiently spend resources for investments in broadband infrastructure and thus significantly improve the living standard of people inhabiting remote areas.

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