Residents can challenge broadband speed to increase funding

FCC map skewed by cell providers

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Seward County residents are encouraged to dispute internet speeds at their homes in order to bring more funding to Nebraska to close the broadband service gap.

The deadline to submit a challenge to the Federal Communications Commission is Friday, Jan. 13.

The Southeast Nebraska Development District held a meeting for local government officials Jan. 5 to explain discrepancies in the speeds some cellular service providers are reporting to the FCC compared to what speeds actually are available in some areas.

"Challenging the FCC broadband maps is an opportunity for everyone to help close the digital divide in southeast Nebraska,” said Oliver Borchers-Williams, AmeriCorps Broadband Fellow with SENDD. “Pay close attention to licensed fixed wireless providers reporting coverage at 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up at your home or business."

The FCC released updated maps Nov. 18 that pinpoint broadband service speeds by address across Nebraska.

As part of the federal Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, Nebraska will receive funding to help improve broadband access based on the level of service already available.

Nationwide, $42.5 billion are allocated to the program, with each state receiving a minimum of $100 million.

The rest will be distributed to states based on their number of “unserved” locations.

An address is considered “unserved” if its internet speed is less than 25 megabytes per second for downloads and 3 megabytes per second for uploads using fiber, copper, cable or licensed fixed wireless connections. Satellite internet isn’t included in the calculations.

A location is “served” if it has 100 Mbps or greater for downloads and 20 Mbps or greater for uploads. It is considered “underserved” if between 25/3 and 100/20.

One significant problem in Nebraska is that three cellular carriers are reporting their mobile coverage – via data or mobile hotspots – as in-home broadband with speeds of 25/3. This shows those locations as “underserved” instead of “unserved,” and affects 65,000 addresses statewide.

“There are companies reporting cell phone coverage as ‘coverage’ in our area,” said Sharon Powell, a member of the Utica Village Board who participated in the Jan. 5 SENDD meeting.

If you have anybody who uses a hotspot for internet, you find they burn through data and it bogs down service.”

The Public Service Commission has filed bulk challenges to reports from U.S. Cellular, Viaero and T-Mobile, but SENDD says individual challenges from residents will help make sure unserved areas are recognized by the FCC.

In Seward County, 1,898 locations are affected.

Seward County Commissioner Misty Ahmic said the coverage changes drastically when cell service is removed from the map.

“In Seward County right now, it shows there are 53 people in our county with no service available, 245 unserved and 2,287 underserved,” Ahmic said. “When we remove the cellular service, those numbers change to 705 with no service, 1,491 unserved and only 389 underserved. Those are huge number differences.”

Each location that can prove it doesn’t have the reported speeds means additional funding for Nebraska.

“There are 65,000 homes in Nebraska that would qualify as underserved. For every one of those, the allocation would be an extra $4,000,” Ahmic said. “That’s potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

If every one of those locations filed a challenge, it could equate to an additional $260 million.

“The money that doesn’t come to Nebraska goes to another state,” Powell said.

The areas of Seward County most affected are those outside of cities and villages, as well as in the communities of Garland, Cordova, Beaver Crossing and Bee.

Residents can challenge their speed by going online and using the chat function on their cell service provider’s website to ask about in-home speeds available at their address.

SENDD said the companies will likely confirm the fastest speeds available as less than 25/3.

Customers can then screenshot the chat conversation or save it as a PDF and attach it to a digital challenge form on the FCC’s website, broadbandmap.fcc.gov.

The deadline to submit a challenge is Friday, Jan. 13. Challenges filed after that date will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

“We could really use everyone’s help, even if they’re living inside those villages,” Ahmic said. “As we push forward and get more dollars, this is so important.”

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