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What maps have to do with digital equity

by Jon Morrison Winters, Digital Equity Program and Broadband Manager

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about maps, especially the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) National Broadband Map. This new map is designed to display the availability of broadband in our country at the individual address level, and it shows much more detail than what was publicly available in the past. The National Broadband Map is important because it will determine the allocation of federal broadband funding in the coming years and support communities to increase connectivity for residents.

Anyone can go to the map and look up their address to determine its accuracy. And that’s what local governments want you to do. If you check your address and find that you don’t have the internet access the FCC believes you do, then challenge it!

There’s an easy process to submit challenges to the map. As the FCC receives and processes these challenges, the National Broadband Map will be updated, and it will slowly become more accurate. Since the map will be used to allocate funding that supports broadband infrastructure investments and digital equity programs in communities across the country, improving the accuracy of the map is a win-win!

Besides their connection to infrastructure funding, broadband maps are also important in what they can tell us about access and equity outcomes. As former King County Executive Ron Sims said, “a zip code is not just an address, it is a life determinant.” Since at least 2010, researchers have been attempting to understand the comprehensive picture of equity in Seattle and King County through “opportunity mapping.” The recognition of the importance of geography has had a profound impact on government and influenced everything from transportation investments to pandemic response.

Broadband access has typically been left out of the mapping conversation, either because it was neglected, or because good data wasn’t available. Now that many of us have experienced first-hand the challenge of working and schooling from home, we have a better understanding of the importance of a fast and reliable internet connection. While the internet was supposed to obliterate distance, what we know today is that, if we forget to apply an equity framework when making decisions, the advance of technology can worsen inequity.

Making sure that the FCC National Broadband Map is accurate is one simple way to contribute to digital equity in your community. Type in your address, type in your friends’ addresses, type in your mother-in-law’s address! Make sure that the information that pops up on the screen is accurate.

This is your opportunity to make sure data are telling the whole story. Don’t neglect that opportunity.

Submit your challenge before Friday, January 13, or as soon as you can. The FCC will continue to process challenges submitted after January 13, but a priority will be placed on those submitted by the January 13 deadline.

Jon Morrison Winters is the Digital Equity Program and Broadband Manager at the City of Seattle. To learn more about the City’s Digital Equity Program, and upcoming grant opportunities, visit our Digital Equity site.