The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it wants to hear directly from consumers about their broadband experiences as the agency attempts to extend high-speed service across the country.
Specifically, the FCC wants consumers to tell it whether service is even available where they live, and if so what kind of speed it offers. It’s part of an effort to extend internet service to underserved areas such as inner cities and the rural countryside.
“Far too many Americans are left behind in access to jobs, education, and healthcare if they do not have access to broadband,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Collecting data from consumers who are directly affected by the lack of access to broadband will help inform the FCC’s mapping efforts and future decisions about where service is needed.”
Currently, the FCC relies on internet service providers (ISP) for this information. Officials say tapping into consumer feedback may provide a more comprehensive picture of which areas have good service and which ones do not.
A webpage to collect the data
Consumers are asked to go to this FCC webpage where they can detail their experience, both positive and negative.
“Your experience with the availability and quality of broadband services at your location will help to inform the FCC’s efforts to close the digital divide,” the agency said. “We may also send you additional information by email in the future as we develop tools for consumers to share data with the FCC. You can also follow our efforts to improve the accuracy of these maps at www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData .”
Agency officials have complained that relying solely on information from the ISPs was inadequate and could in fact be misleading. For example, for a 50 square mile area to be considered as having broadband access, only one customer in the area had to have 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.
Impact of COVID-19
The issue has taken on added urgency over the last 12 months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. When schools closed last year, students had to attend class online, an issue in areas where service was spotty.
In a speech this week, Rosenworcel said nearly 17 million children in the U.S. fall into what she called the “homework gap,” meaning they lacked adequate access to the internet. Worldwide, she noted 67 percent of children are in that category.
“I believe this is the cruelest part of the digital divide,” she said. “We need to make it a priority to fix this homework gap and connect every student so they can have a fair shot at continuing their education.”