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Engaging with Local, State, and Federal Officials Through Broadband Surveys and Speed Tests

Surveys are not a novel tool for facilitating communication between residents and local officials, but broadband studies have increasingly become a forum of public opinion for residents and their local elected officials. 

Oftentimes, municipalities work with broadband experts, who conduct the surveys and help interpret the results. The insights gleaned from broadband surveys enable local government leaders to gauge residents’ interest in new connectivity solutions and counter federal data that overstate broadband availability.

During the spring of 2021, the City of Northampton, Massachusetts conducted a survey online and via mail that garnered responses from a quarter of residents. 98% of respondents supported the city government’s role in facilitating better and more affordable Internet service. Equipped with community support, the City Council voted to approve the creation of a Municipal Light Plant, required by state law. On November 2, 2021, 91% of Northampton voters approved the ballot measure that will allow the City to establish a public broadband network. The survey results will also be used to identify community needs during the upcoming network feasibility study.

The City of Philadelphia conducted a Household Internet Assessment Survey, which it used to better understand the role that connectivity initiatives played in improving broadband access and adoption. Importantly, the survey found that most Philadelphians were either unaware of affordable Internet options or did not have time to apply. The survey results informed recommendations that the city plans to use to improve connectivity programs. 

States also use broadband surveys to better understand broadband availability. And a number of them have implemented speed tests. Speed tests are frequently accompanied by short surveys about device usage, connection type, and level of satisfaction with the service. States that share data collection methodologies and systems provide valuable support for city and county governments seeking more accurate broadband data. 

In Colorado, Larimer County sought guidance from the State Broadband Office on its broadband data collection initiative. The State of Oregon and local governments use data collection efforts to improve federal maps, access funding, and drive community-wide interest in improving broadband. On October 7, 2021, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and the Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity announced the creation of the Illinois Broadband Lab, which includes a new interactive Connect Illinois Broadband Map with speed test results and county level broadband maps. 

With the influx of federal funding through the CARES Act, American Rescue Plan Act, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, and the need for ubiquitous broadband spotlighted by the pandemic, more communities and states are using surveys to understand what residents and businesses want and need. 

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