Check out this interactive broadband map showing the range of Internet access in Pennsylvania –

How many Pennsylvanians don’t have broadband access at home? The head of a technology and public policy research team out of Penn State thinks their new mapping tool can determine that number better than the FCC.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is preparing to distribute millions of dollars to organizations across the state to support digital equity and broadband expansion. To figure out how best to distribute that money, the state will rely on broadband maps to see which areas of the state have underserved or unserved addresses.

The Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (PABDA), chartered in February 2022, is currently developing statewide broadband plans that will guide the distribution of funds from two federal programs, the Digital Equity Program and the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program. PABDA is also currently accepting grant applications for the Capital Projects Fund Broadband Infrastructure Program grant with a July 10 deadline. to plan how they will ask for funds from PABDA.

Last winter, PABDA began promoting a broadband map released by the Federal Communications Commission, which uses data collected by Internet service providers. The state agency called for challenges to the map: where data was missing, what should be added. PABDA has not yet released its Pennsylvania broadband connection map, but is in the process of developing one.

Penn State’s X-Lab director Sascha Meinrath hopes state residents will use his team’s new Xplorer Internet tool instead.

X Lab recently launched a beta version of Internet Xplorer, a broadband map that color-codes the statewide address as served, underserved, unserved, or no service reported, in terms of broadband service. Its data comes from millions of broadband speed tests conducted by American households using tools from the M-Lab internet performance measurement initiative.

To ensure that the map is an accessible resource, Internet Xplorer uses open data, open methodologies and open source code, all for free. Meinrath hopes Pennsylvanians and organizations that serve residents will use it to determine how many local families are in need and, thus, determine future eligibility for the grant.

“This map will allow you to do that kind of planning – it will actually allow you to apply for funding and document needs in your community,” she said.

Check out the Internet Xplorer map

Meinrath believes the official federal map is missing hundreds of thousands of places across the state, but said X-Lab’s map shows those places and identifies them with a turquoise dot. The missing locations on the FCC’s map mean Pennsylvania could lose more potential funding.

There are only two of the 67 counties in the state that are not represented on the X-Lab map. When spoke with Meinrath in late May, he said Jefferson County had agreed to submit his data, leaving Schuylkill County as the only leak.

With Internet Xplorer, users can zoom into any area they want and see address-level data. On the FCC map, users can also search at the address level, but the map appears less specific as it zooms out beyond a particular neighborhood.

“As soon as you zoom out to the county level, you go to these hexes that say, ‘Oh, 62% of households here are underserved,'” Meinrath told “I’m like, I need to know which ones, so I need to figure out where my fiber path goes, and the fiber path needs to go near homes that aren’t served.”

The FCC map compared to the X-Lab broadband access map at and near Philadelphia City Hall, both magnified four times. (Screenshot; compilation image)

According to PABDA Executive Director Brandon Carson, the agency is working on multiple efforts to improve the FCC’s national broadband map.

“To date, the Authority has submitted more than 50,000 service requests, of which more than 21,000 have been granted, successfully enabling these locations to be eligible for broadband funding. In addition, with the release of the second version of the FCC map (V2), 20,000 additional broadband service locations (BSLs) have been identified within the Commonwealth, more than 40% of which are unserved,” he told Technical .ly via email.”We have developed a map to assist potential applicants for our grant programs using the V2 map and FCC tissue data. A demo of the map has been provided at [the June 1] PBDA board meeting and we plan to make it publicly available soon.

Meinrath and his X-Lab colleagues worked with other experts, including professionals associated with the National Broadband Mapping Coalition, to develop Internet Xplorer. Meinrath himself has been doing national broadband mapping work since 2006 and said he has been working on versions of this map for the past five years. This iteration has been in the works for almost a year.

With Internet Xplorer, he said, a user can “click any address on the map and you’ll get not only the specific address for that spot, but also what’s been reported as the top broadband service at that same location, and whoever’s serving it, that’s a big win.(Worth noting: this goes for the FCC map as well.) This version of the X-Lab map is a beta, but in future releases, the team would like to overlay race and ethnicity data and broadband speed test data.

Meinrath said he is keeping PABDA updated on everything his team is working on, even inviting senior PABDA members to spend time with his team a few weeks ago. He wants the agency to use the map his team developed and support continued work to improve that map instead of the one PABDA is developing. A PABDA spokesman declined to comment on the record as to whether the agency would use the X-Labs map.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that unites young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

Companies: Penn State / State of Pennsylvania


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