Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Rural nonprofits roll out free smartphone app to help create a national, crowdsourced map of rural internet connectivity

Three rural nonprofit organizations are teaming up in an attempt to create a more accurate picture of rural internet connectivity. They say the Federal Communication Commission's map is flawed and Microsoft's estimation may be biased, Bryce Oates and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.

So, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, the National Association of Counties, and the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation worked with the Measurement Lab to create the TestIT smartphone app, which invites rural residents to test internet speed wherever they are and submit the results to add to a nationwide database. The organizations plan to publicly share the collected data but won't share contributors' personal information, Oates and Marema report.

The app will measure both fixed (DSL, cable and fiber) and cellular networks; that matters, Oates and Marema report, because the rural-urban connectivity gap isn't as pronounced on cellular networks, according to Oklahoma State University rural economist Brian Whitacre. The app will also log results when the user tries to test internet speed and can't connect to a network at all.

Nathan Ohle, executive director of RCAP, told Oates and Marema that the partnership hopes to use the data to push lawmakers for better broadband build-out funding. Connectivity (or the lack of it) makes a big difference for rural communities, he said: "If you’re looking for a job, if your business is in the community, if you are a farmer looking to download crop-yield data, all of those things have an impact on your daily life if you don’t have access to high speed broadband."

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