You can find a pdf of the press release here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brittany-Rae Gregory
brittany-rae@nextcenturycities.org

Washington, D.C. (May 18, 2021) Today 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. Inaccurate federal broadband mapping data impacts  broadband deployment efforts throughout the United States states and its territories. Using Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) data, state mapping, and submissions from local leaders, Next Century Cities conducted a state-by-state review of broadband access.

Francella Ochillo, Executive Director, Next Century Cities, described why addressing persistent connectivity gaps demands accurate, granular broadband data. “For years, faulty broadband mapping has been used to tout progress on closing the digital divide. The pandemic provided undeniable clarity on which areas are being left behind. 

“The lack of independent verification processes for Form 477 data coupled with limitations on being able to challenge inaccuracies locks the most disconnected communities out of federal resources. State broadband programs that rely on the FCC’s data are debased accordingly.

“Our report on broadband mapping across the U.S. and its territories documents the FCC’s conclusions on broadband availability, state data collection efforts, and initiatives powered by local leadership. Some data points were similar while others were riddled with contradictions, particularly in rural areas. In several places, the absence of information speaks volumes. All of the research confirms that inaccurate deployment data and the absence of broadband adoption metrics prevent local officials from being able to implement long-lasting solutions.”

Local leaders have unsuccessfully challenged inaccurate maps with their own data and speed tests. They also have limited recourse when their communities are overlooked. “Inaccurate and incomplete broadband mapping is disproportionately harmful to rural regions like Deep East Texas,” said Lonnie Hunt, Executive Director, Deep East Texas Council of Governments & Economic Development District. “The people who suffer the most are our unserved rural residents who have been waiting years to get reliable and affordable broadband. Sometimes it feels like we are stranded on a deserted island, watching and waving frantically as planes pass overhead but no one notices we are here. It’s also important to note that, in rural America, one size doesn’t fit all. Each region has its own unique challenges. To ensure responsible use of federal funding, we must have a well thought out plan, and that is only possible with complete and accurate data.”

Local leaders have limited resources to collect broadband data. According to Burt Lum, State of Hawaii’s Strategy Officer for the Hawaii Broadband Initiative, “In a state like Hawaii, which is isolated from the continent by more that 2500 miles of ocean and comprises six main islands, understanding what communities are connected or not, lies solely on our own devices. A resource like the NCC broadband data report is a great help in seeing what other states are doing and how we might leverage the lessons and platforms used to achieve digital equity.”

In states like Michigan where 70 of 83 counties report broadband connectivity rates below the national average, broadband data provides an important benchmark to measure progress. “NCC’s latest report highlights the importance of one of the most valuable tools for local digital inclusion practitioners accurate data. The collective outcry directed at the need for better broadband data is heard at every level of government,” a statement from Joshua Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion, City of Detroit. “As Congress pumps federal aid into local ecosystems, this timely report empowers municipal leaders to think more expansively about digital equity data depths and deficiencies.”

Especially in light of the inequities exposed by COVID-19 closures, state leadership also views accurate broadband mapping as an essential step towards ensuring that every municipality has digital opportunities. Connecting every American to broadband is challenging for many reasons, but figuring out where connections are needed shouldn’t be one of them,” said Kathryn de Wit, Project Director of the Broadband Access Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “State and local governments aren’t waiting for the federal government to solve that problem. Instead, they’re assessing their information gaps and designing strategies to fill those gaps. From speed tests in Alabama to asset inventories in Nevada, state leaders are using data to help them spend their limited resources precisely and effectively.

Sascha Meinrath, Director, X-lab, Palmer Chair in Telecommunications, Penn State University commented, “Next Century Cities has compiled an incredible state-by-state source guide of broadband mapping initiatives. Given how inaccurate federal measures of broadband adoption have proven, these State efforts have been critically important in documenting the dire state of connectivity across the U.S. Today, we need the federal government to invest in science: standardized, replicable, open and peer-reviewed, and scientifically-rigorous methodologies. It’s well-past time to put network researchers and the scientific community in charge of broadband mapping.”

Many communities treat broadband as essential infrastructure. Being able to provide all of their residents with affordable and reliable access requires being able to pinpoint areas in need. Zach Friend, Santa Cruz County, California Second District Supervisor added, “Accurate broadband mapping is essential to ensuring that we provide this key service to all communities. Existing maps, which rely on out of date and inflated industry data, overstate broadband availability and hinder communities seeking funding for broadband expansion.

Deployment strategies will continue to fall short when based on inaccurate data. “Effective public policy to support the deployment of broadband to unserved and underserved areas requires accurate data incorporated into accurate maps,” said Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss. “There is overwhelming consensus that FCC data misrepresent our broadband landscape. Luckily, local governments, state officials, and Tribal leaders are working to accurately capture the extent of our digital divides. Next Century Cities highlights these efforts and demonstrates why federal policymakers must collaborate with partners at all levels of government if we are to realize the promise of truly universal broadband.”

Every connectivity story matters. Local perspectives help to create an accurate representation of broadband deficiencies in communities nationwide. Through June 2021, our #ShowMeYourMaps social media campaign will highlight local and state initiatives as well as statistics from each state and territory. 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 the #ShowMeYourMaps hashtag. 

Review the report here. Read the blogpost by Corian Zacher here

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Next Century Cities is a non-profit organization of over 200 communities, founded to support communities and their elected leaders. Our membership includes mayors and other officials who are working to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable internet access. For more information, visit www.nextcenturycities.org .