New public and private internet accessibility mapping shows WV in the red

*bobby editorial note – this should run with a data graph and a map both*

While Greenbrier County prepares its own broadband accessibility mapping, new data from both public and private sources was recently compiled and made available to the public.

The new data and maps were released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which explained the map “is the first interactive, public map that allows users to explore different datasets about where people do not have quality Internet access.”

“Any effort to close the digital divide starts with solid data, and NTIA continues to help policymakers make more informed decisions on expanding broadband access,” said Acting NTIA Administrator Evelyn Remaley. “Now, the public can benefit from our platform to see which areas of the country still don’t have broadband at speeds needed to participate in the modern economy.”

The maps show county, census tract, and census block level data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), M-Lab, Ookla and Microsoft. In addition, speed-test data provided by M-Lab and Ookla show “the reality that communities experience when going online, with many parts of the country reporting speeds that fall below the FCC’s current benchmark for fixed broadband service of 25 megabytes per second (mbps) download, three mbps upload.”

“Values shown were derived from Ookla Speedtest results run over the time period from January – June 2020,” explains the NTIA website. “The layer shows speed test results at the census tract level. Tracts with collective median speed test results below 25/3 Mbps are shown in red.”

Zooming in on Greenbrier County, speed tests were not positive — nearly the entire county lights up in red. According to a speed test from Ookla between January and June 2020, service over 25/3 Mbps only appears on the map for areas around Lewisburg, White Sulphur Springs, and Rainelle. The M-Lab data is broken down on the county level, but indicates median speeds were below 25/3 mbps.

The maps also include county-level data on connectivity from Microsoft. When a computer connects to the internet and accesses Microsoft updates or services, it communicates with the company, allowing them “to estimate the device’s throughput speed based on the size of the packet sent and the time it takes to download.” According to the data provided, 75 percent or more of these users in Greenbrier County clocks download speeds below 25 megabytes per second.”

Data set provided by NTIA.

Curiously, the data also includes community survey information from U.S.Census American Community Survey taken from 2015-2019. The survey results suggest large portions of the county have more than 25% of households stating they have internet access above 25/3 mbps. This is contradicted by the data provided by Microsoft, Ookla, and M-Lab.

The maps and data can be found online at https://broadbandusa.ntia.gov/indicatorsmap.

“Broadband is no longer nice to have. It’s need to have. To ensure that every household has the internet access necessary for success in the digital age, we need better ways to accurately measure where high-speed service has reached Americans and where it has not,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “The latest mapping effort by NTIA is a welcome new tool that provides valuable insight into the state of broadband across the country. Kudos to Secretary Raimondo and Acting Assistant Secretary Remaley for their leadership. The FCC looks forward to continuing our close collaboration with the Commerce Department and other federal partners to fulfill the goal of connecting 100% of Americans.”

This new map is not related to the Greenbrier County Broadband Council’s ongoing map-making survey, though it could be used to complement the more locally-comprehensive mapping the survey project looks to create.

“What can you do? We’ve got several things we would like you to do to help us out and enhance broadband in Greenbrier County,” explained Sen. Stephen Baldwin during a recent Broadband rally in Lewisburg. “One is to fill out the survey. … Right now the federal government thinks that broadband in southern West Virginia is just fine. We know that’s not true. It’s not fine. We are tremendously under-served, but we have to prove that. … If you can fill out the survey, help us get a map together, your business and your home, then it’s going to put us in a better position [for federal and state funds and grants].”

The local survey can be found at https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/e6c7779b3bc74322bd19313d4620b9cf. A clickable link is also expected to soon be posted on greenbriercounty.net.

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