The National Association of Counties (NACo), the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corp.) have partnered to address the critical need for affordable, high-speed internet for rural communities across the country. Together, the three organizations developed a mobile app that gives mobile phone users the power to accurately identify areas with low or no internet connectivity and share that information to push for change. Armed with those data, the organizations will advocate for adequate funding for broadband infrastructure across the country.
The “TestIT” app (available for iOS and Android) uses an open-source sampling tool developed by Measurement Lab (MLab) to aggregate broadband speeds from mobile device users across the country. Accurate data ensure that broadband infrastructure receives the investments needed to provide internet access to rural communities. This partnership among NACo, RCAP and Rural LISC shows how organizations working together for rural communities can have a greater impact.
“Access to affordable, high-speed internet is essential to connect people and places and compete in today’s economy,” NACo executive director Matthew Chase said. “Outdated broadband mapping techniques limit Congress’ ability to accurately identify and allocate broadband resources across much of America. This mobile app will help identify gaps in broadband coverage and help guide federal, state and local decision-making.”
Lack of reliable broadband is a major economic barrier and an issue of socioeconomic equality, as people's lives and futures have become inextricably tied to technology. Without access to high-speed internet, many rural communities are becoming increasingly isolated and left behind. A 2018 study conducted by Microsoft concluded that 19 million rural Americans do not use broadband, largely due to a lack of access. For these small communities, broadband can serve as a lifeline, connecting students to online degrees and connecting sick patients to medical consultations that are unavailable locally.
“Rural LISC’s work is grounded in supporting and amplifying the voices of our grassroots partners. They have consistently raised the connectivity gap as a major economic barrier. The TestIT app provides a platform to amplify not only their voices but also the voices of every rural resident,” said Suzanne Anarde, LISC vice president and Rural LISC director. “It is our hope that, through our partnership with NACo and RCAP, we are empowering users to advocate for the future of their families and their communities.”
High-speed internet is also consistently voiced as a top challenge facing small businesses in rural America, with lack of access stifling entrepreneurship by limiting the ability of individuals to take on independent work. In this economy, broadband is critical to building resilient and future-ready rural communities.
The app allows users to be active participants in the national effort to bring awareness about the lack of high-speed internet connectivity in communities across the country. Within the app, users can test their broadband speed from anywhere. Snapshots of individual tests will be collected within a database, allowing partners to analyze connectivity data across the country. The data will bridge the gap between rural residents’ everyday experiences and connectivity data provided by internet service providers, which are often inaccurate and inflated.
“This app is an exciting opportunity for us to help provide insight into true accessibility of broadband in rural communities. Partnering with NACo and LISC allows us to build a network of users from across the country as well as showing the critical importance of building partnerships to affect change at the local level,” RCAP executive director Nathan Ohle said. “This initiative will shed light on communities that are often overlooked or underserved and identify opportunities to better leverage critical federal resources.”