Disparities between those who have reliable broadband access and those who do not have never been more apparent. The transition of countless services online has united people living in all corners of the country toward a common goal — ensuring ubiquitous broadband for people living nationwide. National and state broadband mapping directly impacts not only which communities can apply for the funding they need to fill connectivity gaps, but whether they can realize visions for expanding infrastructure, improving service quality, and addressing affordability.
Cities, counties, towns, and villages across the country have taken the lead on promoting awareness about their residents’ experiences with Internet access. Many have undertaken collaborations with providers, leveraged municipal assets for public WiFi, and provided affordable fiber service directly to residents. Municipalities operating near rural areas are expanding into neighboring communities, connecting residents who previously relied on spotty, expensive service with resilient infrastructure that can support robust broadband connections for decades into the future.
On May 18, 2021, Next Century Cities released “Broadband Mapping Across the U.S.: Local, State, and Federal Methods & Contradictions,” a report that reflects the ongoing need to improve broadband data collections with community-level perspectives, affordability metrics, and adoption rates. Notably, it documents how national mapping efforts boast far higher deployment rates than local officials see on the ground.
Even as speed demands have vastly increased since the FCC increased the minimum broadband speed to 25/3 Mbps in 2015, deployment progress is continually tracked at the same increasingly inadequate threshold. FCC data is also known to overstate access in numerous ways, leading states to undertake their own data collection efforts. At the same time, those managing state and federal funding programs are reluctant to base awards on more comprehensive data sources, as different approaches to mapping could disadvantage communities that lack the resources to embark on their own mapping efforts.
The time is long overdue for federal policymakers to consult with local leadership when developing broadband maps. By equipping communities with tools and resources for data collection, local insights can inform federal policy and improve broadband maps, helping to ensure that funding is available to communities undertaking innovative and thoughtful broadband improvement initiatives.
Learn more about broadband mapping in your state here. Local perspectives help to create an accurate representation of broadband deficiencies. We encourage local leaders to follow Next Century Cities on Twitter or Facebook to weigh-in on the state of broadband access in their own communities using #ShowMeYourMaps.