As Governor Kristi Noem hands out more government money to build broadband to all those South Dakota communities that the free market would otherwise leave using smoke signals, state leaders should be prepared to spend more than they anticipate to bring South Dakota’s web surfers up to speed. According to the Utah State University Center for Growth and Opportunity, the Federal Communications Commission likely underestimates how many Americans lack access to broadband Internet. Some of the biggest underestimates appear in South Dakota, particularly and predictably in wide open West River:
The FCC likely overstates broadband access because it lacks independent data and relies on service providers to report the reach and quality of their own services:
A growing number of states are making it a priority to collect their own data, says Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities. “I think everyone is rightfully concerned about sending tons of money out the door based on inaccurate data.”
Federal mapping relies too much on data from service providers that is not independently verified, including the actual speeds obtained by users, according to Ochillo. She cites a recent survey in Ottawa County, Mich., that found 11 percent of its residents don’t have broadband Internet — and that 15 percent of those with service have speeds below the FCC’s broadband threshold.
What this means is that one in four residents lack broadband service, not one in 10. When the federal benchmark changes — BEAM already characterizes service slower than 100/20 Mbps as “underserved” — the problems encountered thus far in data collection could begin anew, points out Ochillo.
Some providers are already reluctant to have their data regarding baseline speed verified externally, she says. “These types of shenanigans will only increase as the baseline increases” [Carl Smith, "New Maps Help Set Priorities for Broadband," Governing, 2022.05.04].
Rural broadbandification is as important today as rural electrification (also brought to us by government, not the free market, because, don't forget, rural America, the free market views you as colonies to exploit, not communities to serve). Utah State's research shows us that we need independent data from rural America to verify that the dollars we are spending to connect rural Americans to the modern Web are really making the connection.