As part of a new data collection effort on broadband service and availability in the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is going right to the people for details on their experience.
On Monday, the FCC announced it will start collecting "first-hand accounts on broadband availability and service quality directly from consumers." The effort is part of the agency's Broadband Data Collection program to reform long-standing inaccuracies in the FCC's mapping data in order to direct broadband services and funds where they are needed. A cross-agency task force to fix the mapping problem was formed in February.
"Far too many Americans are left behind in access to jobs, education, and healthcare if they do not have access to broadband," Jessica Rosenworcel, acting FCC Chairwoman, said in a press release announcing the new data collecting effort. "Collecting data from consumers who are directly affected by the lack of access to broadband will help inform the FCC's mapping efforts and future decisions about where service is needed."
Alas, as with most sites that end in .gov, the process of reporting one's broadband experience on the FCC page is not 100% intuitive: The agency directs consumers to https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData but it then takes a few clicks down the menu (to the "For Consumers" tab) to find the "Share Your Broadband Experience" button. Moreover, a website may not be the most convenient place for people without Internet access to report their experience.
Still, the effort is an early step toward collecting the kind of data necessary to bridging the digital divide – which requires accurately defining it and knowing where it exists (and not just taking service providers' word for it) – and another one that suggests new leadership is serious about doing so.
Indeed, the FCC acknowledges that the invitation to "Share Your Broadband Experience" is one of many steps that will be taken to rectify the data they have on mapping, calling it a "complex, data-driven effort that will involve building new systems, process, and supporting materials...
"The Commission is working hard to develop these new tools as quickly as possible. In the meantime, consumers can share their broadband experiences with the Broadband Data Task Force," it says.
In addition to serving as a place for people to report their experience with Internet access, the FCC also intends to use the new website as an informational hub for the Broadband Data Collection program.
For those who choose to report their experiences, the FCC is asking for three to five sentences describing "your problem and what could be done to solve your problem."