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Challenging Census Block Data with Crowdsourcing

Plenty of states are not accepting the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) national broadband census tract map data as gospel when it comes to ascertaining who has high-speed coverage and who doesn’t. Ookla, best known for its Speedtest application, offers ground-level information to assist in the NTIA challenge process by providing a more accurate snapshot of who is being served and how well.

“Mississippi is one of many states that we’re working with right now that are utilizing our data to better understand what people are actually experiencing out there, and what areas that they might need to target that potentially might not agree with the FCC National Map,” said Bryan Darr, Vice President, Government Affairs, Ookla.  

West Virginia is another state that has tapped into Ookla’s data to measure its progress in broadband coverage through the use of state and ARPA funds to build network coverage. Ookla’s data has shown improvements in download speeds, upload speeds, and latency across the state as well as improved growth in coverage.  

For the BEAD model challenge process that the states will run, states can use pre-approved modules from the NTIA, or they can develop their own challenge process. “How are you going to walk through your state challenge process and give the eligible entities there the opportunity to agree or disagree with the conclusions that the state has reached on eligibility, which is certainly directed by the FCC map?” said Darr. “States have the ability to go make changes to areas where they disagree.” 

West Virginia is among the states creating its own challenge process with assistance from Ookla. NTIA has said they will allow states to be flexible in setting up their own plans, but once it has gone through a public notification process and it’s been finalized, no further changes will be allowed. Ookla says its Speedtest collects approximately 100 times as many data points as a typical statewide survey. 

However, Ookla admits using its data has required some work. “A lot of people involved with these issues aren’t very familiar with telecom,” said Darr. “Most telecom companies that have gotten our data in the past have known exactly what to do with it, but it also can be a heavy lift even for them because we’ve got millions and millions of points and each of those points has got dozens of fields associated with it.”  

To make use of the data easier, Ookla is rolling out its Broadband Performance Data Center information in ArcGIS Online hosted layers by the end of this year, so it will be ready to use with Esri GIS mapping software. “People who have an Esri platform are going to be able to just license our data and roll it directly in and it will all be pre-formed,” said Darr.  

To learn more about Ookla’s data and how it can be used to assess broadband coverage geographically, listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast.