High-speed internet access has gone from a convenience to a necessity for working and learning from home, and the COVID-19 pandemic has more clearly exposed the downsides for American households that do not have a high-speed connection.
To address this problem, researchers at Michigan State University have developed a new tool to facilitate the collection of federal broadband access data that helps identify coverage gaps across the United States. The research was published on May 26 in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Almost 21% of students in urban areas do not have broadband at home, while 25% and 37% do not have broadband at home in suburban and rural areas,” said Elizabeth A. Mack, associate professor in the department of geography, environment, and space sciences at the College of Social Sciences.
“As more and more of our day-to-day activities continue to move online, including education, commerce and healthcare, it is critical that we understand where gaps exist in digital infrastructure. This is particularly important if we are to address disparities in access related to demographics, socioeconomic status and educational attainment, ”she said.
When the United States Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the goal was to encourage competition in the telecommunications industry while improving the quality of service and lowering prices for customers. To determine the effectiveness of the law, the Federal Communications Commission created a standardized form (Form 477) where, twice a year, Internet service providers are required to report where they provide services to residential and business customers.
“To date, Form 477 data remains the best publicly available source of data regarding broadband deployment,” said Scott Loveridge, professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE). “Unfortunately, there are a lot of nuances in this data that at this point have prevented us from conducting useful analysis over time.”
One of those nuances is that the data collected from 2008 to 2018 covers the two census reporting periods of 2000 and 2010. This made it difficult to examine the data as a whole and their alignment with the changing geographic areas of the census. , which change each census year. .
Loveridge, Mack and John Mann, assistant professor at the Center for Economic Analysis, and several other researchers from the University of Texas and Arizona State University, worked together to produce a new dataset that solves some of these problems by linking the breaks in the Form 477 data into a continuous timeline and aligning the data with the 2010 census.
“We have developed a procedure to use the data to produce an integrated broadband time series,” Mann said. “The team labeled the data set BITS, which stands for a broadband integrated time series.”
“We hope that this data (BITS) will be a tool to diagnose gaps in broadband availability to help bridge the digital divide and improve the participation of all people in online activities,” Mack said. “With shrinking public budgets and a need to locate locations suffering from a chronic shortage of broadband, it is essential that policymakers effectively allocate the human, infrastructural and policy resources necessary to improve local conditions. “
This work was funded in part by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to examine the availability of broadband and its impact on businesses in rural and tribal areas.
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Material provided by University of Michigan. Original written by Emilie Lorditch. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.