Research predicts possible inaccuracy in connectivity speeds

Eleven million speed tests were calculated across Pennsylvania in a 2018 year-long study from a research team at Penn State University. Many of the areas in the state did not exceed the Federal Communications Commission’s criteria to qualify as broadband connectivity. According to the FCC’s map from December 2017, updated May 2019, the level should be at 25/3 megabits per second, showing that most of the areas that were covered by these tests did not exceed the FCC’s criteria though the map shows 100 percent availability.

The research team and Steve Samara, president of the state’s Telephone Association agree that the 25/3 Mbps rate has some complications.

Samara believes that keeping customers of PTA and their member companies either at or slightly above the 1.544 Mbps legal rate is what people need to keep their internet access going, but it depends on the user and the state in which the user is in.

The megabits per second rate can often be confusing as the speeds that many are getting are below the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps rate, but their service is still working how they need it to.

Some member companies around Pennsylvania have an initial role of 10 Mbps and others less or more, but the rates have to stay above the 1.544 Mbps or get to that number by the given date under the chapter 30 Act or Act 183. This act gives companies a specific date to where the company then has to make sure the service is providing accessible connectivity by that given date.

“1.544 Mbps is the speed that all of the landline providers have to have available for all of their customers under the act,” said Samara. “You sign up to get the megabits per second by the date you sign up for, and it allows for more flexibility in pricing and benefits.”

“The speeds you are getting are dictated by other factors like how many people are on it at home, etc. 1.544 was pretty fast back in the day, and now you can get more. If you are the only one on the internet you can do it on 3 or 4 Mbps and you can also do it on 1.544,” said Samara. “It becomes confusing.”

PTA’s goal is “to identify where they are, who they are and what speeds they are interested in. As well as how many people are going to be on it at a given time,” said Samara. “The goal is to help folks identify what speeds they are interested in and how the member companies can provide them service.”

The research that the team did showed that much of the connectivity was substantially lower in rural areas. 48 out of 67 Pennsylvania counties are rural with just over three million people, 27 percent of the population, living in rural areas, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Rural areas are based off of population density, which is calculated by the total population of a specific area divided by the total square land miles of that area. For Pennsylvania, a rural area is defined as 284 persons per mile, according to both the 2010 Census and the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. This means that any area that has less than 284 persons per mile, is defined as rural. Lycoming County for instance has 95 persons per mile, making it a rural county.

“A rural carrier defined by the FCC are based upon the population density defined as rural local exchange carrier,” said Samara.

Regardless, companies locally at least have to have 1.544 Mbps legally, but are not considered having “broadband connectivity” due to the FCC’s map’s 25 Mgps rate.

“A lot of member companies are at the 1.544 or three to five Mbps range. A lot of people are happy with less than 25; there are a lot of folks that are subscribing to slower speeds but are fine with that,” said Samara.

The research states that the largest problem is that the map coverage of broadband activity in rural areas is becoming increasingly inaccurate as rural areas are known through research to have slower and lower rates of broadband activity and connectivity.

According to the research, there is a possibility that the FCC’s maps are inaccurate and overstate broadband speeds across Pennsylvania.

Governor Tom Wolf has a plan to reach 100 Mbps by 2022; he has a ‘Restore PA’ plan where he wants to use proceeds to fund broadband connectivity according to Samara.

The lack of broadband connectivity in rural areas is still being worked through with the help of legislature, research and companies like PTA.

“We are working with legislatures, the governor’s office and with Public Utility Commission to try to address the rural broadband issue and make it more attractive for universal broadband services to fund and support broadband and traditional landline service in rural PA,” said Samara.

More information on the study can be found at:

https://www.rural.palegislature.us/publications–broadband.html

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