Agencies need access to accurate, consistent and contextualized data to close the digital divide.
In the digital era, internet access is no longer a “nice-to-have.” For most of us, it’s something that is ingrained deeply into our daily lives. But while the number of citizens with access to computers and the internet continues to grow exponentially, so does the digital divide.
The COVID pandemic highlighted the real-life consequences caused by digital inequity. Many constituents were cut off from the opportunities that high-speed internet makes possible, resulting in limited access to critical services, difficulties receiving online schooling or even accessing telemedicine. There was resulting pressure on government to provide relief.
Federal funding to expand broadband connectivity
The good news is that state and local governments are actively pursuing to close gaps. The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program includes $42.45 billion to expand high-speed internet access in all 50 states and U.S. territories, prioritizing unserved and underserved locations.
Connecting an entire nation isn’t an easy task, so it’s important to learn from past mistakes, identify barriers to extending connectivity and use emerging data governance solutions to streamline cost assessment and compliance. Broadband mapping will be crucial, but it’s often fuelled by untrustworthy data—leading to inaccurate decisions that don’t truly benefit those who need access the most.
“Addressing” the data challenges
While agencies may have solid address data, having the addresses alone isn’t enough. They need contextualized information about the properties located in each area to prioritize effectively.
Plus, working with addresses is challenging, requiring a unique approach to standardization and verification. Being able to define a serviceable location versus a mailable location will have a huge impact on cost assessment and use of data across government processes.
One powerful tool is a current and comprehensive list of all known serviceable addresses in the United States, with up-to-date information about mail delivery indicators, detailed land use information and building designations—data that will simplify the process of identifying unserved and underserved locations.
Geoaddressing solutions can help solve key challenges with address data: its accuracy and consistency. Inaccuracy can occur when addresses get manually typed into a computer system, resulting in errors that quickly add up to a much bigger problem. Plus, with people constantly relocating, the data can soon become outdated.
Data enrichment unlocks essential context
And yet, there are so many unanswered questions that stay ignored in the mapping process: Is this a commercial or a residential address? Is it within state or county boundaries and is it serviceable? There’s a huge risk of leaving unserved citizens behind or wasting program funds on non-serviceable addresses.
To provide fair and equitable broadband access, agencies need high integrity, contextualized data, enabling them to build the most comprehensive view of properties.
Enriching internal data with addresses and their locations, building outlines, parcels, property features and socioeconomic information is crucial for agencies to be able expand broadband connectivity with confidence. Linking internal address data and the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric will enable the enrichment of addresses with a comprehensive property view. It’s key to the effective planning and execution of a BEAD campaign.
Tying everything together with data interoperability
In an ideal world, the data used to identify serviceable locations would all line up “just so.” In reality, it’s a much more complex task. A connected and current view of properties that ties all enrichment data back to the address—without heavy geospatial processing—is key. It helps to identify serviceable locations, even when they’re located within multidwelling or multitenant units.
Think of a family-owned site with several livable structures. In a current broadband mapping process, all these properties might appear as a single dot on the map, when there are actually numerous individuals requiring broadband access.
Achieving compliance with data governance
In this journey to provide equitable internet access, achieving regulatory compliance can determine the success of a connectivity program. Ensuring bid compliance with critical data elements from ISPs, maintaining compliance in buildout and stakeholder engagement, relaying compliance metrics to the federal government—all these efforts are integral to connect the underserved and secure future funding.
Agencies need a trusted data governance solution to prioritize data that is critical to broadband initiatives, minimize compliance risks and respond to changes in data assets, clearing the path for successful execution of a BEAD program. They need a clear data strategy to achieve digital inclusion, and that means investing in data integrity, which will benefit agencies even beyond connectivity initiatives.
As programs to address digital inequity continue to gain momentum, it's clear that their success relies upon access to accurate, consistent and contextualized data. Data integrity will be essential to enabling data-driven government innovation that provides access to critical citizen services and life-changing opportunities for every constituent.
Brad Steer is vice president of public sector at Precisely.