County association launches app to track broadband, cellular coverage data

Internet and cell service coverage in rural areas has been a frustration for year and on Monday, the National Association of Counties launched a mobile app geared toward getting accurate information regarding where coverage lacks.

The app, TestIT, was a partnership between NACo and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership and was developed “to identify areas with low connectivity to help ensure adequate funding for broadband infrastructure,” according to a NACo release.

App users can test their broadband speed and compare their internet speeds to the national average and minimum standards established by the Federal Communications System.

The TestIT app is available in the Apple App Store or Google Play.

The app won’t collect personal information, according to NACO, but a snapshot of each sample will become part of a database that NACO and partners will use to analyze connectivity data nationwide. The data will also be used to identify areas where broadband service is overstated and underfunded by comparing the data to the National Broadband Map, according to NACO.

“The decisions made in D.C. are largely based on the FCC broadband coverage maps which in much of the U.S. are very inaccurate. Montana is one of the areas in which the broadband coverage is greatly overstated,” Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs said in a release. “The only way to raise ourselves in the priority for broadband funding is to correct the coverage maps. It has taken several years of discussion, but the FCC is now willing to accept new data and correct the maps.”

Over time, the data collected by the app will create a map that accurately depicts where there is and is not service and how good the service is, according to Briggs.

Since many are dropping landline phones in favor of mobile phones, Briggs said having good cellular coverage is critical for 911 emergency calls.

Over the weekend, members of NACO’s Telecommunications and Technology Policy Steering Committee discussed the coverage issues with representatives from the offices of Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. In Capito’s home state, 74 percent of rural residents do not have access to broadband.

Kent County, Del. Commissioner Allan Angel, vice chair of the committee, said he can’t talk to constituents in his own county in some areas due to poor cell phone service, but he can go all the way to Hawaii and talk to family members back home and service is just fine, according to a NACO release.

Another county official said she hears from constituents who write to the FCC, but never hear a word back. “Thousands have made complaints to the FCC, with no action — they blame me,” said Henrico County, Va. Commissioner Patricia O’Bannon.

Another member, Sherburne County, Minn. Commissioner Raeanne Danielowski said her county is stuck with a  provider who receives federal funding for landline services, but won’t upgrade the service and won’t allow competitors to lay fiber.

“We are falling way behind,” she said. “It’s a conversation we’ve been having for a long time. Kids are sitting outside of restaurants at 10 o’clock at night looking to get broadband.”

In recent years, Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines have been pushing for greater broadband coverage and resources to help small communities improve their connectivity.

Tester meets with Great Falls group on public infrastructure needs, challenges

Briggs said the time to collect data and make changes depends on how many people are willing to help gather the data.

“Please download the app and use it not just at your home and office, but also as you travel throughout the county to your favorite fishing hole, camping spot or where ever you are headed,” Briggs wrote in a release. “If we are to make good decisions as a nation regarding broadband deployment, we must first have good data regarding where it does and does not already exist.”