For states, broadband mapping is the hot topic in the quest to identify unserved and underserved areas. Collecting accurate, detailed information on who has, and more importantly, who doesn’t have a broadband connection will be essential in securing the maximum amount of BEAD funding. North Carolina and Georgia have been proactive in collecting broadband coverage data and making it available to the public but have taken different approaches on how they have built their maps.
North Carolina’s broadband mapping efforts have been fostered through North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute as a part of a larger effort to make sure K-12 students have access to the internet. “We were hired by the state broadband infrastructure office to develop a survey tool and a speed test,” said Ray Zeisz, Senior Director, Technology Infrastructure Lab, Friday Institute, North Carolina State University. “We wanted a very high-fidelity speed test and we were looking for street level data from real people. To reach people that don’t have any internet, we built a chat bot you can call or text with your phone.”
Through its efforts, North Carolina has collected over 111,000 speed tests across the state along with the associated detailed survey data to build its broadband coverage map. Georgia used a different approach, collecting performance data from each internet service provider based on a fabric of specific locations.
“In 2018, we started down a path to map out all locations in the state of Georgia that had access to what was defined as broadband at the time, which was 25/3 Mbps,” said Eric McRae, Associate Director, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia. “We were using a commercial set of locations. We’d get that data set, get rid of duplicates, validate against other data sources, and then we provide that data out to the ISPs if they sign a sub-license agreement to have access to it. What we request of each ISP is to provide us with a list of all addresses that they do serve or can serve within 10 business days of a request or, even better, send us a footprint of the network they’re going to be able to serve. We get basically three different levels of data sent to us.”
Both Zeisz and McRae believe the FCC 477 census maps significantly underestimated the number of unserved households in their respective states. Detailed state mapping efforts provide data necessary to challenge FCC and NTIA estimates, which are likely to be below the actual population of unserved households within a state.
To learn more about Georgia and North Carolina’s mapping processes, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast.