As telehealth and virtual learning are becoming essential parts of life, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, a reliable connection to broadband internet is invaluable for all communities. In particular, rural communities can benefit from telehealth because it reduces barriers to care for people who live far from specialists or who have transportation or mobility issues. And on the education side, students in rural communities have more flexibility, convenience, affordability, and greater access to online resources with virtual learning. However, nearly a quarter of the population in rural areas, or about 14.5 million people, lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. This lack of coverage can put their access to health services and education at risk.
One challenge to ensuring all communities have access to broadband is the broadband maps themselves used by governments and internet providers. These maps tell governments and telecommunication companies which communities need access and where to build the necessary infrastructure, but existing maps have proven to be insufficient.
“Large portions of rural America were left out of the FCC’s official broadband map that both industry and government rely on to make future decisions,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, at a Senate hearing on May 13, 2020 “The State of Broadband Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Pre-2018, federal broadband coverage maps assumed that if one address in a census block had access to broadband, then all addresses did. With the passing of the Broadband Data Act, broadband coverage maps are required to be updated to accurately reflect broadband access at the individual address level. And due to COVID-19, stimulus money is now available to fund efforts by service providers to expand their coverage.
Address fabrics are the way forward
Since state governments now need to know coverage at the address level, a comprehensive address fabric is essential to updating their coverage maps. An address fabric contains every address in a state geocoded to the property parcel on which it sits, plus any building characteristics (such as year built) that may help determine whether an address can be connected to an existing fiber network or whether a wireless connection is required. Combined with subscription and infrastructure data from service providers, this enables states to identify which addresses need access to broadband.
With their address fabric created, state governments benefit by meeting the coverage map requirement set by the Broadband Data Act, and telecommunications companies then benefit because states can direct them where they need to go to build the infrastructure required to bring broadband to underserved communities. Finally, underserved communities benefit because they have a reliable, quick way to access the internet.
LightBox can help
As the only commercial data provider who has produced an address fabric for a state to update their broadband maps, LightBox is uniquely positioned to help state governments for this purpose. Built on the nation’s most comprehensive parcel database, SmartParcelsⓇ, we can save states the time of trying to recreate a statewide parcel database that may become dated as soon as all the data has been gathered. For telecommunications companies, LightBox can also match broadband service area data with the address fabric as it is being created, resulting in a complete broadband coverage map in a fraction of the time.
Our data solutions team of seasoned experts can provide fast, accurate service to help states and telecommunications companies bring underserved residents online. Contact us today to learn how LightBox can create an address fabric to support your state’s rural broadband initiative.