Mapping Issues Cloud Broadband Initiatives

Broadband is considered a vital service in today’s economy, but for many rural communities, it’s an inaccessible one.

U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, has secured a measure in appropriations legislation in Congress to address “deeply flawed broadband mapping practices.”

Mapping problems occur when maps are used that indicate a specific area has access to high-speed internet service when in fact it doesn’t.

The problem arises because maps rely on provider-reported data at the census-block level, and the resulting maps tend to overstate broadband coverage in rural communities, Delgado said.

Delgado successfully pushed for an amendment that would prohibit the sole use of census-block data to identify areas that have access to broadband.

“I’m encouraged to see the House pass my amendment to address outdated rural broadband mapping measures,” Delgado said. “I will continue to push for legislation to address the need to expand access to high-speed internet across the country, including the poor mapping methodology that leaves rural communities behind.”

Deputy Greene County Administrator Warren Hart said having the ability to more specifically break down areas that don’t have broadband access would make connecting the entire county easier.

“It would be incredibly helpful for us to be able to access federal data at the street level for broadband, meaning the addresses from intersection to intersection,” Hart said. “The federal data right now is only available by census block and if one household is served in a geographic unit in a census block, then it shows up as that whole census block is being serviced, and that is not the case.”

Hart said local internet-service providers have made major strides in recent years in getting the county connected, but there is more work to be done.

“In the last three years, our local internet providers did extremely well and they were successful in getting about 60% more households connected to broadband during the state’s broadband program,” Hart said. “But almost all of the census blocks in Greene County are characterized as being served, but we know there are many that are not being served.”

F. Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, said Columbia County has also made progress, but some areas remain unconnected.

“The state has made a significant investment in broadband and additional assistance from the federal government would further strengthen the ability of rural counties to expand broadband to both businesses and residents,” Tucker said.

His organization has “spent considerable resources” developing maps of areas that are served by broadband, but keeping them updated with accurate information has proved another challenge, Tucker said.

“To the extent that this legislation will provide added accuracy both to existing and enhanced broadband service, it will be a very positive addition to existing state and local broadband funding,” Tucker said.

Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said the county has been working on the issue.

“Mapping is an issue in Greene County and it is something our economic development and real property services departments have been working on,” Linger said. “Those two departments have been working together with the state and the governor’s broadband initiative.”

But getting certain areas of the county — particularly more rural communities — connected to the internet has been difficult, he said.

“Some communities are just underserved,” Linger said. “It’s what we refer to as the last mile — those roads that are just too long a distance and providers haven’t put wiring in. We have been working to identify where those areas are.”

But Hart said that if mapping were more accurate, the county could take steps to bring internet service to unserved areas.

“We have a very close working relationship with our local internet providers and if we could identify street-level data and identify all the remaining households that don’t have internet access, we could jointly work with them to come up with a plan to seek state and federal grants to get them connected to broadband,” Hart said. “That data would be incredibly beneficial for the county and for our internet providers.”

Chatham Town Supervisor Maria Lull said increasing broadband access is a key issue.

“Anything that can improve access to broadband in upstate New York and specifically Columbia County would be an economic boost,” Lull said. “All our legislators should be pushing for it. There are so many people working from home, students taking online classes — it is the future and New York state is way behind the rest of the world.”

 

Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media