According to a revised map of Internet access released Friday by the Federal Communications Commission.
The new map, which provides the most granular portrait of broadband availability across the country to date, allows users to search by address and view information about which Internet providers serve a home or business and what speeds they make available.
The new map is a crucial element of the funding formula for federal money to improve Internet access. The data will be used by the FCC to determine how much each state receives from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress last year, which set aside $65 billion in funding for broadband improvements.
The bulk of the money — $42.45 billion — will be given directly to states and territories through the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program. Allocations to each state are determined by the size of their population without broadband access, though each state will receive at least $100 million.
Pennsylvania formed its own agency last year to manage and distribute federal BEAD funds. The 11-member Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority released a plan this month outlining its aspirations to expand broadband infrastructure, access to technology, affordability and digital literacy, and will eventually open applications for local governments to apply for funding.
The new FCC maps represent a significant departure from the commission’s older ones, which experts said likely overstated broadband access because they required providers to report availability only at the census block level, meaning that if at least a home in that block had access to certain speeds, the entire block was reported to have them.
“Here with the new maps, we can isolate specific buildings,” said Kyle Kopko, executive director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and a member of the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority. “We can get more granular. We can be more specific, there are more filter options and these will be updated over time.”
In addition to showing what Internet service providers have reported to the FCC, the updated tool also allows residents to do so dispute the accuracy of the map based on whether their address is included and what services are available to them. Residents can attach supporting documentation to their challenges, which are reviewed by the FCC and its third-party contractor.
“Individuals who see that the information on the maps does not match what they know from their lived experience will be able to submit challenges or request corrections directly through the map interface,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a press release. “This crowdsourcing activity is a big part of getting the information we have right.”
Users have until January 13 to submit challenges to the first release of the FCC’s broadband map.
In Lancaster county
While FCC data shows that nearly all county residents have access to broadband-level speeds, the data does not show how many households actually access those speeds or what barriers, such as costs or digital literacy, could exist to prevent them from doing so.
“There are still many different factors that could affect the end user experience. So maps are not designed to solve these problems,” Kopko said.
An August report from the Lancaster County Economic Development Company showed that many residents in the county face barriers to offering and using broadband service, particularly residents who are older, disabled, immigrant or refugee, or those on low incomes. .
Stakeholders interviewed for the report said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for increased access to Internet-connected computers and wireless Internet hotspots, such as in libraries, as well as training to help people improve their digital skills.
“What we’ve heard from our work within the county over the past year is that access to infrastructure is only part of the puzzle,” said Ezra Rothman, director of strategic initiatives and partnerships for EDC. “If people have access to infrastructure but can’t afford to access the appropriate speeds they need for them or their family, that’s also an issue that needs to be addressed.”
One of EDC’s goals through the report was to promote the FCC’s $14.2 billion Convenient connectivity programwhich provides eligible low-income residents with a $30 monthly subsidy for broadband service and potential discounts on digital devices.