Precision agriculture. Telehealth. Economic development. Education.
What do all of these have in common? The need for robust, affordable and reliable broadband services.
Yet so many Americans today don’t have access to broadband, let alone high-speed access. And the vast majority of those people live in rural communities.
To help identify areas lacking access, the National Association of Counties (NACo) developed the TestIT mobile app (Apple | Android). It empowers individuals to provide data on how they experience cellular and broadband internet every day. By downloading the TestIT app, anyone can test their broadband speed from anywhere at any time with the press of a single button. The information collected through TestIT allows NACo to identify areas with low or no connectivity to help inform federal policy and funding decisions around broadband infrastructure.
While TestIT will continue to collect data indefinitely, NACo recently published a report discussing their initial findings. Between March 1, 2019 and February 6, 2020, NACo logged TestIT samples from 78 percent (2,391) of counties in the United States, including samples from 71 percent of all small counties, 87 percent of medium counties and 93 percent of large counties by population size.
According to the samples collected, 1,362 counties are experiencing the internet at levels below the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) definition of broadband, including 19 percent of large counties, 51.5 percent of medium counties and an alarming 77 percent of small counties.
The TestIT app also differentiates between cellular and fixed-wireless connections for each sample taken, allowing NACo to analyze how users experience the internet via home, work and public WIFI connections. The results show that 59 percent of counties experience fixed-wireless connections at speeds below the FFC standard, including 16 percent of large counties, 44 percent of medium counties and again, an alarming 74 percent of small counties.
The disproportionately low levels of broadband access in rural communities inhibit their ability to maintain vibrant economies, healthy residents and a competitive agriculture sector in a variety of ways.
Lack of connectivity severely impairs communities’ potential to attract, retain and cultivate new businesses. In today’s environment, there are few industries that do not rely on the internet for sales, marketing, client management and/or data analytics.
Many people depend on broadband internet to identify and apply for new employment opportunities. The ability to connect via email and video conference expands rural employment opportunities exponentially, too, allowing people to work remotely for companies based outside of their small communities. The benefits of remote work are twofold, providing employment for rural residents and addressing the issue of rural migration by enabling individuals to earn competitive living wages while staying close to home.
Teachers across the nation are increasingly assigning homework that requires a broadband connection, and digital skills are quickly becoming a part of school curriculums. Without access to the internet, rural youth face the potential of falling behind their urban and international counterparts.
Telehealth and remote diagnostic platforms bridge the gap between remote communities and critical healthcare services. Through high-speed internet, telemedicine applications enable real-time clinical care for geographically distant patients and providers, encouraging evidence-based decision making. This is especially important considering the high number of recent rural hospital closures.
Precision agriculture allows farmers to leverage real-time data collected across a network of variables and sources to make quick and informed decisions. As farmers face challenges such as rising labor and input costs, intensifying global competition and adverse weather conditions, they need broadband access. Precision agriculture technologies enable farmers to increase yields while decreasing marginal costs. And America’s farmers and ranchers need every tool available to stay competitive in today’s economy.
Farm Credit is dedicated to supporting rural communities and agriculture. We understand how broadband is essential to the health, success and sustainability of rural America. Our mission-driven employees, many of whom live in the rural communities they serve, feel the frustration of insufficient broadband access on a personal level. That’s why we partnered with NACo to develop TestIT.
While the information presented in the initial report is vital, we need your help to make an even bigger impact. TestIT will continue to collect data on broadband connectivity and we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity by utilizing the app and sharing the information with your peers. All you have to do is follow these simple steps:
- Locate the iOS/Android App Store on your phone
- Search for “TestIT” in your mobile app store
- Download TestIT mobile app
- Open TestIT mobile app and click: Test Speed Here
For more information from NACo and their initial findings, check out the complete TestIT report.