FCC App Helps Find Rural Broadband Coverage Gaps

The Federal Communications Commission is working on putting together an accurate picture of the broadband shortages in rural America. The agency needs some help with data collection, and they’re turning to the residents of rural America for help. Jean Kiddoo is Chair of the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force. The agency has put together an app for mobile phones to help gauge broadband coverage strength.

“We have an app that can be downloaded on consumer mobile devices, they are for iPhones or Android devices or tablets, to measure the speed that their broadband service is coming over. And the app measures two different kinds of mobile services; first, it measures cellular service, which is the service you use when you’re away from home, and we also have a function on it that enables the user to measure his or her Wi-Fi service at home.”

Once the app is on a mobile device and open, push the button that says, “test mobile device.” Once initiated, the test won’t take long. “It takes 15-20 seconds to test both download and upload speeds, and latency and other measurements of broadband service. You do have to take a look to see if you’re at home and set to measure your Wi-Fi or you’re measuring your mobile broadband provided device like your telephone broadband service. There is that setting you can change. The information, first and foremost, is for their benefit to determine whether or not they’re getting the speeds that their provider has indicated that they’re paying for. Obviously, that’s an important question for users.”

Kiddoo talks about what the agency will do with the data they collect saying “The FCC takes the data on an anonymous basis and puts it into a report that we do periodically about broadband service and what’s available and where it’s available. But more importantly, we are engaged in a longer-term project right now. A very important one that is going to be building a brand-new and improved data collection, where we are going to be collecting the mobile broadband and the fixed broadband service information from all providers across the country and putting it onto maps and allowing users and state and local governments to review that information and to challenge it, to make sure that we have the best possible information available as to where broadband is and where it’s not, and at what speeds it’s available.”

She says the goal is to fill the gaps in broadband service across rural America. “There are many ways that we want to be sure that all Americans across the country, both rural and urban areas, have access to high-speed mobile broadband service. It’s become more and more important, especially during this pandemic, when users are at home, having to do homeschooling, working from home, operating their businesses from home, so broadband is more of a lifeline-type service at this point. And so, it’s important to us that we make sure that we get it deployed to areas that need it, and there are a number of both federal, state, and local funding processes that rely on good solid information, and we want to make sure that information is as accurate as we can get it for those funding efforts.”

Consumers can find more information and make their voices heard on broadband at the FCC website. “You can access it at www.fcc.gov/broadbanddata. There’s information for consumers linked to that page about this speed test, for example. Also, we have a place where consumers can submit stories about their broadband experience for us, which will help inform us as we develop our data-collection systems. So, we’re anxious to get consumer input and feedback, particularly from rural consumers, who really are the most underserved in the country in terms of the availability of broadband.”

Again, Jean Kiddoo is chair of the FCC’s Broadband Data Task Force.