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Broadband is of increasing significance to all consumers, government policy, economic development, scholarly research, community access, and education both inside and outside the classroom.1 Measuring broadband availability is critical to its successful provision. This collaborative project with Merit Network, Ann Arbor, aims at the development of a best-practice method and tools to collect more granular information on the availability and uses of broadband. Project presentations at several conferences generated strong interest and buy-in by stakeholders in the K-12 community and among anchor institutions, such as libraries. A focus group in Ann Arbor in December with representatives from across the state solidified and focused the direction. Pilots with a few selected communities will be launched in May of 2019.
Considering that any source of data will have strengths and weaknesses, strategically using multiple sources of data can advance the quality of data to inform decision making. Specifically, data sources, such as FCC Form 477, can be analyzed in conjunction with new consumer- sourced data to improve the accuracy of broadband availability data and enable us to identify areas where access or speed appears to be under- or over-estimated. Our approach has the potential to be scaled up and sustained with the guidance and oversight of a National Advisory Group that will include federal agency representatives, industry, and current data source representatives. The Quello Center is now seeking funding for this initiative.
Our comment, submitted to the NDIA in July in collaboration with the Merit Network, argues that current problems with the accuracy of broadband data can be resolved by implementing a consumer-sourcing mechanism for collecting individual-level data. By combining and augmenting data sets, the weaknesses of any particular data set can be mitigated. Making these combined data sets open and publicly available will enhance their utility and reliability. The value and feasibility of this data collection will be enhanced by enlisting the help of regional and national networks that include educators, academics and information technology practitioners, advocates and consumers.
This project has been approved by the Michigan State University IRB. We are currently seeking funding through sources such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Microsoft.
Quello Center and Merit Network (2018, July). ‘Citizen Enabled Advances in Broadband Availability Data.’ Submitted July, 16, 2018 to U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Docket No. 180427421– 8421–01 RIN 0660–XC042.