Every byte counts in rural areas

Photo by Patrick Shea Courtesy of an interactive map showing Internet Service Provider broadband coverage across the country, the Federal Communications Commission’s website (broadbandmap.fcc.gov) allows people to run speed tests and use the data to challenge what ISPs advertise.

SAGUACHE COUNTY — When a percentage of residents chose to not participate in the 2020 census, the counties where they reside did not receive all the federal funds they deserved. This per-capita shortfall hits smaller counties harder than others. Broadband service also suffers in rural areas like Saguache County when the data is inaccurate.

Until the middle of January, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is giving residents across the country a chance to challenge inflated upload and download speeds promised by their Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The FCC receives data from ISPs indicating where service varies in their coverage area. But the numbers don’t always add up as advertised.

So, the FCC created a designated website (broadbandmap.fcc.gov) to host an interactive map with search controls for Fixed Broadband and Mobile Broadband. Hexagons indicate the percentage of coverage served within the area (white for no coverage and four shades of blue up to 100 percent). Some areas receive service from multiple ISPs.

To use the website, people can search for broadband service areas according to a specific location, service providers, or the general area of coverage in question. In addition to saving the data, people can challenge the report. They can correct location information, for example, as well as the advertised service provider data. They can also use the FCC Speed Test mobile app developed for iOS and Android to compare the actual speed of service with advertised data rates.

Correcting location and service data can be confirmed and changed. But for speed disputes, it will take a village to report the numbers. According to the FCC, they will accept challenges until Jan. 13, 2023. They will compile the aggregated results from all the Mobile Challenges in a service area.

The Executive Director of the Colorado Broadband Office, Brandy Reitter, presented more than 13,000 challenges through the interactive map since it came online at the end of November. Reitter predicted they will report more incorrect locations and service offerings through her office.

To fully challenge service speeds, residents of Saguache County can report speed test results, particularly from white or light-blue dead zones as indicated on the FCC map. When the FCC receives a speed test report, they compare the data with the provider’s claimed coverage area from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. A single speed test is not enough to get on the FCC radar. But once a significant number of speed tests show substandard performance within a provider’s service area, the data will be aggregated and delivered to the provider with a requirement to respond.

Twice a year, service providers are required to collect data and report to the FCC. Numbers gathered up to June 30 appear in a report on Sept. 1. Data for the second half of the year is due by March 1. The report in September 2023 might reflect service improvements in underserved areas. In the meantime, speed testers are notified monthly regarding the status of their reports.