New maps will help determine where up to $1 billion in federal money for broadband expansion in the Palestinian Authority is going

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HARRISBURG – As Pennsylvania prepares for the season Expected floods of federal funding to improve broadband accessthe country must first solve a fundamental but surprisingly thorny challenge: identifying places where high-speed internet is still not available.

Almost everyone agrees that the federal government’s current broadband maps are completely inaccurate—a long-term source of frustration for advocates, government officials, and Internet users.

According to the latest data from the Federal Communications Commission, 4% of Pennsylvania’s population cannot have access to it Access to the Internet at broadband speeds – Currently defined by the federal government as download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps. This percentage rises to 13% in rural areas. But those numbers, released last year, almost certainly underestimate the extent of the problem.

else Often cited BroadbandNow, a website that allows users to compare Internet plans, puts the number of Pennsylvanians without broadband at more than twice that of the FCC.

Now, after a series of delays, the FCC is set to unveil its new broadband maps in November.

It’s a huge, complex, high-risk task: Updated maps will determine how much money Pennsylvania will receive from the federal government through a major new grant program, as well as which areas within the state will receive priority funding.

“It’s unfortunate that the new map arrives at the same time as the grant process — and that’s just really bad timing,” said Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting, a national telecommunications consulting firm.

The new maps will still be based on data reported to the FCC by ISPs, but that information will be more accurate, and officials say is more accurate than previous versions. Another change: Local governments will be able to challenge the new maps if the service provider reports to the FCC that broadband speeds are available in a particular location but residents disagree.

If local governments do not use this challenge process, Dawson said, some areas without broadband may lose their chance to receive some of the new funding.

In Pennsylvania, some counties are better prepared than others.

Beaver County has already developed detailed maps of areas without access to broadband, an effort that began before the pandemic and gave county officials a “very clear picture” of places underserved, said Lance Grabel, director of the county’s office of planning and redevelopment.

Grapel said the county relied on sophisticated computer analysis, door-to-door surveys, and hundreds of internet speed tests submitted by residents. Officials also compared notes with outsourced internet service providers and contractors to document existing infrastructure — such as whether a home relies on satellite internet, which is often less reliable than other technologies.

It is now up to the state’s Broadband Development Authority to collect and synthesize the fragmented data that already exists and fill in any gaps.

“There’s a lot of data out there but we’re not looking at any one overall picture,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of County Commissioners and a member of the State Broadband Authority’s Data and Mapping Subcommittee. “It’s time to put everything on the table and see what we’re working with.”

Brandon Carson, the authority’s executive director, said the agency is looking at “all options” for compiling its own maps. “We’re still talking about what exactly this strategy would look like,” he said.

If Pennsylvania does not collect its own data to address any errors in the new maps, the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funding, experts at Listen in May Organized by Rural Pennsylvania Center, a government agency that researches policy for the General Assembly.

Testifying at the hearing, Sasha Minrath, a professor at Penn State and lead author of two major reports on the state’s broadband problems, said the federal government’s delays with the new maps gave Pennsylvania a “last-minute reprieve.” “We have another opportunity to more accurately document the haves and the have-nots.”

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