The Value of User-Reported Data

The N.C. Broadband Office's user-reported mapping initiative which lets residents identify their location and whether they have any internet services.

We hear from fellow North Carolinians across the state about their experiences connecting to the internet. From these conversations, we’ve been appraised of previously unidentified gaps and pockets of unserved and underserved areas.

As a result, we are about to launch our new user-reported mapping initiative which will allow citizens to self-identify their location and let us know whether they are unserved or  the services that they are receiving.

Here are some of the specific benefits of having citizens and businesses provide information on how they are connecting and the speeds they are receiving.

User-Reported Data Gives a More Accurate Portrait of Speeds and Services Available in a Particular Area

Using internet service provider information, the Federal Communications Commission determines which areas, identified by census blocks, what types of services and technologies are available. Census blocks are defined by population (approximately 400-600 people) and can vary in size and shape. The way the information is reported to the FCC does not allow us to specifically identify which homes and businesses are being served. And  if the provider is only serving a single home or business, all the homes in that block are deemed  served.

As a result, it becomes very easy for areas to slip through the cracks and not get access to high-speed broadband or sometimes even basic internet service.

When local participation surveys are completed and properly mapped, this gives us and the local community an extremely more reliable picture of what the broadband coverage is for that area. It will help communities with funding opportunities.

By mapping out where actual issues are, this data can help the incumbent know that they need to upgrade service an area to keep their customers happy.

User-Reported Data Gives a Better and More Accurate Measurement of Speed

Today more than ever, people are working or running their businesses from home.

Even in a situation where an employee periodically works from home, the need for acceptable speed and reliability does not change.

Broadband providers give speed offerings as an “up to” value which typically is a best-case scenario on any given day at any given time.  So, while accurate, it can be impacted by other variables.

For example, on a shared network with other users, you will find lower speeds across the network. The technology that a provider might be using can be influenced by the distance or length of the connection coming through a neighborhood.

Feedback from users in these cases allow for an assessment that speaks more to real-life scenarios on expected speeds, and allow potential new customers considering service in those areas to understand what will be the new reality they will live with so that they can make an informed purchase decision.

User-Reported Data Gives Incentive for Smaller Providers to Move into these Areas

Broadband providers move into areas based on being able to create a business case for it.

So, if a large provider can’t make the case for moving into a community, often, a small provider can make that case more easily.

New or regional broadband providers that concentrate their deployment in specific market areas (usually smaller areas than the larger incumbents) can offer reliable speeds and are typically using the latest equipment which speaks to not only reliability, but speed consistency.

A great example of this is what Yancey County has done to make gig-speeds available to all its residents throughout the county.

This creates a choice for consumers, and specifically in the case of businesses, allows for back -up service from separate providers.

Wrapping Up

User-reported data is extremely important to help understand the full story. This way, we can identify those pockets of unserved and underserved communities and reach out and support local broadband planning committees in developing a plan that will work.