If you live in western North Carolina and struggle with the lack of quality Internet access, the Southwestern Commission — a council of local governments for the region’s seven westernmost counties — in cooperation with the MountainWest Partneship are urging residents to take this survey. Counties in the council include Haywood, Swain, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Cherokee, and Clay.
The goal is to quantify the demand for Internet regionally, focusing on individual counties as opposed to census blocks, in order to better determine accessibility issues. It’s an important process to show Internet providers that there is demand, debunking ISPs claim that rural demand for high-speed Internet doesn't justify the investment. Better data can also establish a foundation for future funding opportunities.
Sarah Thompson, the executive director of the council explained,
It’s really in my opinion one of the most important parts of the process. You’re basically showing [internet service providers] that there is demand, it’s showing even when there is service it’s subpar. In order to move forward with projects, we have to have that data to back up the need. To show that there are opportunities.
FCC’s Inaccurate Data Collection
Through the FCC’s form 477 data collection efforts, the Commission attempted to carry out these crucial first steps in showing aggregate demand and problematic broadband service. The data was compiled into the easily accessible National Broadband Map.
Data is collected from ISPs and it provides information to the FCC based on which census blocks ISPs serve. The problem is that this data exaggerates where coverage is available in rural areas where census blocks can be very large. Areas that may appear on the FCCs maps to be served or to be served with better connectivity are often in reality not served or served with Internet access much slower than FCC mapping indicates. Because state and federal entities typically award grants and loans to communities with the greatest need first, incorrect mapping eliminates rural communities from funding opportunities when they need it the most.
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