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MEMPHIS, MO — 8/6/2021 – The Northeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission recently awarded a $92,350 contract to CCG Consulting and Finley Engineering to complete a regional broadband mapping study.
“We are looking forward to partnering with CCG and Finley to document what portions of our six-county service area do not have adequate broadband service available,” said NEMO RPC Executive Director Derek Weber. “With an increasing amount of federal and state funding for broadband expansion and upgrading, we feel like it will be very beneficial to our communities to have a more accurate assessment of which areas are truly unserved or underserved in today’s broadband market which could potentially open the door to funding to add or upgrade service to these areas.”
The study will seek to improve upon the existing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) service mapping data, which currently is the determining factor for grant funding eligibility. In 2020, more than $4 million was awarded by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to fund installation of broadband in portions of the six counties there were classified as unserved by the FCC mapping data. The bulk of those awards went to Lewis and Clark counties where nearly $3 million was awarded to LTD Broadband, LLC to add service for a combined 784 locations. Service was added for just one location in Knox County and no funding was awarded in Schuyler County.
“The RDOF awards, or more accurately the lack of awards in Schuyler and Knox counties, raised some red flags in the communities about the reliability of the FCC service mapping,” said Weber. “We believe this study will arm us with more complete and precise information about areas in our community that have been classified as served by the FCC but in fact are not, and thus should be included in federal and state funding opportunities to bring them adequate broadband access.”
As part of the project, CCG and Finely will analyze all of the existing sources of broadband service data, combining the FCC data with the newly released NTIA data, which includes speed testing, as well as updated census information. Expanding on that basic base, the study will include interviews of area internet service providers (ISPs) to update local projects and future plans. The study will also map all of the known grant awards and will provide analysis of the likelihood of the builds being completed as promised or the potential of the promises being unfulfilled.
Experienced engineers from the company will visit the counties to visually verify the existing broadband environment, studying existing towers, DSL cabinets and other hardware to verify service is actually being provided in areas that are mapped by the FCC as served.
“A visual inspection can invalidate any untruthful claims made by ISPs on what service is being provided,” said Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting. “We have found that this on-site review is one of the most important steps in creating your own broadband maps.”
The process will also involve a variety of market analysis of stakeholders, ranging from online surveys of residents and business, speed testing of existing services and interviews with key stakeholders such as schools, health care providers, local government and business leaders.
Finally, a gap analysis will be completed, showing each county how it compares to the rest of the region, state and nation. The analysis will not only demonstrate the gap in broadband availability but will also show speed comparisons for uploading and downloading, cost and affordability comparisons as well as computer ownership reviews that can demonstrate barriers to home access.
The final product will include a set of recommendations for each county on the best way to move forward to address any of the broadband service gaps identified in the study.
The project is being funded as part of the CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant awarded to NEMO RPC by the United States Economic Development Administration (EDA). As an EDA designated Economic Development District, NEMO RPC received a total of $400,000 in CARES Act Recovery Assistance funding in August of 2020 to assist businesses, local governments and community partners as they recover and rebuild economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.