(Trying to) Map the Digital Divide
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
I think we all know that there are places in this county where broadband internet is not available. There are even more places where affordable broadband internet isn't an option.
We can all help change that, but we have to hurry. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a new Broadband Internet map. This map will determine where Federal dollars go to fund broadband internet expansion projects. However, there are reports that it may not be accurate. Some areas without coverage may not be indicated as such on the map. This is understandable here in the hills and hollows of rural Somerset County. However, we can help fix that.
Local leaders are encouraging residents: check your address on the map and see if what the map says about internet access is correct. If not, report that it's not accurate. There is a deadline for the reporting: January 9, 2023. (We were originally told 1/13/23.)
The FCC broadband map may be found here:
Information about using the map and making challenges can be found here:
New information since I first published this post:
The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PBDA) has agreed to help Somerset County Library with submission of a Bulk Challenge to the FCC Data. If people interested in having the library submit a bulk challenge on their behalf could fill out this form at https://forms.gle/M8J55gb2i5RpwR3N7 , that would help us pull the data together in the appropriate format by the PBDA deadline of January 9.
PBDA also provided a step-by-step guide that people (and people helping others ) could use to guide them through the individual challenge process. Step by step instructions for submitting a challenge can be found here: https://bit.ly/FCCMapChallenge Additional FCC Map information and help for Consumers/Individuals can be found here: https://help.bdc.fcc.gov/hc/en-us/sections/10467243210651-Consumers-Individuals
Frankly, using the internet to get feedback from people who lack internet coverage seems like a poor way to go about getting relevant information, if you really want to change things. But this is typical of what happens to people on the lacking side of the digital divide. Even when the government is trying to help people without internet, it seems to assume that everyone is able to use the internet.
I'm finding the map's basic structure has drawbacks. It lists all providers who claim to cover a location, even ones that are totally unaffordable for most people, and ones that I've heard have waiting lists in that area. I do see that there is a challenge available if you've tried to get internet service and a provider refused to provide coverage or forced you to wait more than ten days for a connection.
If someone lacks internet, how do they participate in this process of making the map more accurate? Come on into the library! We have internet, we have computers, and we usually have someone here who can help if you don't know your way around technology.
In addition to information about fixed broadband (home and business) internet, the map also allows for reporting of mobile broadband, both outdoor stationary (that's typically access by phone via a cell tower) and in-vehicle systems. (I'm quite sure they won't have all the dead zones for in-vehicle broadband mapped correctly for our mountainous region, and I doubt anyone would have time to challenge all the errors!)
At this time, the funding focus is on fixed location internet, not mobile.
If you're curious, have a smart phone, and you download the FCC speed test app, it looks like you can test and challenge inadequate service by your cellphone service provider in any location. However, I downloaded the app and learned 1 test on 5g could use a whole 1g of data! Also, folks who live in a mobile coverage "dead zone" may not have bothered to get a smart phone. This is a test we can't do for you at the library, since the test has to be done at the site being reported on. And if there is no signal at all, you can't report the speed from that location. (The digital divide strikes again!) It's just as well that mobile service isn't the focus right now.
This is a complex problem. However, all we can do is each try our best to help make the map more accurate in the little bit of time that we have before the deadline. I've checked, and the information for my home seems correct about our carrier -- though we can't afford the top-tier service, so I have no idea if they really can provide the speed that they say they can offer! Oddly, the library's address shows "no information available" and lists the address as residential! I just submitted a location challenge to get us listed properly, with a copy attached of our Comcast contract for this address.
Perhaps some old-fashioned letter writing may be in order if you can't manage to have your say via the online reporting process:
Federal Communications Commission
45 L Street NE
Washington, DC 20554
We send a lot of tax dollars to Washington. Let's get our share of the broadband funding back here! This is a chance for our entire area to benefit from the taxes residents pay. Jobs depend on it. Broadband internet access affects area business’ ability to prosper, and influences new companies deciding where to locate. It’s essential for people doing remote work and schooling. We all benefit when people can learn, work, earn a living, and be productive citizens and taxpayers.
I understand that our county's State Representative, the Honorable Carl Walker Metzgar, is a member of the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. His office may have additional advice for those having problems with the process. We thank him for his efforts to improve our county's broadband access.
Watch for our next library blog post, before the end of the year, when guest blogger Vicki Rock, our resident book reviewer, will share her picks for the books she enjoyed best in 2022.
Let me take this time to wish folks happy holidays. I hope that the new year will bring you peace and prosperity.