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Officials want Alaskans to map their broadband speed

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The feds are asking Interior Alaskans to take five minutes in the next two days to time their internet speed on mobile devices. It is part of a program looking for places where there is no internet available or where the connectivity is poor.

While many in the Fairbanks area have consistent high speeds with unlimited data, some live in internet “holes” with spotty or no service. In order to better determine where high speed internet services are currently unavailable, the Federal Communications Commission is asking citizens to map their broadband place and speed.

“We are really encouraging the community between now and September 1st, to go out and map your speed at your home location or your office to ensure that it is properly pinned on the FCC broadband speed maps,” Ward said.

That’s Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward. He wants to make sure the borough reports as precise as possible data to update the feds’ broadband map.

The FCC is calling it the Measuring Broadband America Program. It is kind of a snapshot of all of the connectivity across the nation so that the federal government can identify gaps, so that they know where to better deploy funding through the Federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act. The State of Alaska recently signed onto the Biden-Harris Administration’s Internet for All initiative and will receive a minimum of $100 million in funding for high-speed internet expansion.

Heather Handyside, Vice President of Corporate Communications with GCI, one of Alaska’s leading internet providers, says the broadband fabric map is being created this summer by a contractor, who is identifying homes and businesses, and the internet service associated with them. Mostly.

“What we've found is in the lower 48, the contractor's done a very good job, you know, pretty, pretty comprehensive job of mapping states and connectivity. But in Alaska, there are big holes in gap missing. For example, we've noted that in some areas, the contractor missed entire communities. It's mostly in rural where we're having the issues. Or they are identifying a community, but perhaps only capturing a fraction of the housing units,” she said.

The contractor is using satellite imagery, mailing addresses, community planning commission or zoning department information, and tax records. But … those data points don’t necessarily fit in Alaska, especially outside of developed population centers.

“And so this is something that is very much on the minds of the providers in Alaska, because once they get the maps together at the national level, they'll use a very elaborate formula that I cannot explain, but they'll to determine how money is allocated at the federal level based on need. And we believe that Alaska is going to be one of the places with the greatest need, because we have, um, the most remote, rural areas where it's the most difficult to provide very

Service with unlimited data options.

She says there are about 20 providers across the state feeding data to the FCC this summer.

But the crowd-sourcing app is a way citizens can help.

So here is how:

On a mobile device, using the link to:

https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData/consumers#speed-test, the fcc.gov website, to download the app.

But first, there’s an opportunity to read the Privacy Policy – Mobile and the FCC Speed Test FAQs.

Then download the app using either Google Play or the Apple App store.

Open the app and you can consent to sharing your location.

On the test page click Start Test – it first measures download speed, then upload speed in megabytes per second.

The app reports the date and time of the test; what type of device you are using, information about performance, such as your service provider, the strength and quality of the radio signal, and the type of connection; and the results of the tests. The files are automatically transmitted to the FCC's contractor at periodic intervals after you’ve finished the test.

You can remove the app from your phone after a few days.

Mayor Bryce Ward says the mobile device testing will fill in gaps on the federal internet fabric:

“It's a pinpoint map, essentially. So they say this location on the map has this speed at this time.”

Two weeks ago a federal team came to Alaska for a broadband summit in Anchorage. Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said the potential to expand internet in Alaska "is a once in a generation opportunity.” He said with the potential spending, he wants to “get it right."

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.