North Carolina wants to extend broadband service to unserved areas of the state, reported the News & Observer. The problem is, the government can’t tell the “haves” from the “have nots.”
Part of the challenge stems from how the FCC collects data. For example, according to the agency, around 94 percent of North Carolina households have access to broadband.
However, state officials and advocates know, both anecdotally and empirically, that number is incorrect, according to the News & Observer.
The Commission relies on ISPs to self-report and if just one home in a census block is served, then the entire census block, which can span blocks or hundreds of miles, is counted as served. “If the map shows your neighborhood has service, even if it doesn’t, it won’t be eligible for money to build or extend service to your area,” Jeff Sural, director of the state’s Broadband Infrastructure Office, told The News & Observer. “Thus, if you don’t have broadband now, but the map says you do, you won’t likely get it in the future.”
The state is making some broadband headway via its Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program. In May, the GREAT program distributed its first 21 awards, worth nearly $10 million, providing broadband access to about 9,800 homes and 600 businesses across 19 rural counties, Sural said. Projects are a mix of fiber and fixed wireless. Negotiations are ongoing for the next round of the GREAT project; the governor’s office wants $30 million for the program, while the state legislature only outlined $15 million for it, according to Sural.
North Carolina is doing several things to create a more accurate picture of the state’s broadband access, including aggregating data from other sources, like asking residents to self-report and overlaying it on the FCC data. The state is also working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to locate additional data sources and means of analysis to create a more accurate map.
“I don’t think anyone has a true number,” said Patrick Woodie, president of the NC Rural Center. “The state broadband office has done a tremendous job of getting more accurate numbers … but in terms of comprehensive statewide data, we are not where we want to be.”
August 13, 2019