Mapping Project Identifies Broadband Accessibility for Pennsylvania School Districts

Maps have been developed on broadband availability for public school districts in Pennsylvania.  These maps were developed by Penn State Rural Extension (PSU Rural Extension) in response to a suggestion from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Consumer Advisory Council (CAC).  The CAC suggested that a map showing broadband for public school districts, similar to that developed by PSU Rural Extension in consultation with the PUC for the upcoming auction of $16B in federal support in the Auction 904, would be very useful to the public.  They made that suggestion in the wake of the COVID epidemic.  Regional maps are available at these links:  SE  ,  NE , NW , SW

The maps show what areas (census blocks) within a public school district boundaries (district) do/do not have access to broadband at the federally-defined definition of broadband.   This was an expansion of the PSU Rural Extension already done in Pennsylvania for the upcoming Auction 904 in the Rural Development Opportunity Grant Program (RuDOF).  Auction 904 will occur in October 2020.

Currently, the federal definition of broadband is 25 megabits per second down/3 megabits per second up (25/3, or the so-called “Netflix speed” because is it the speed deemed necessary for optimal streaming of data and video content, a factor in education).  The map shows which areas do/do not have broadband at 25/3.

The PSU Rural Extension map is a regional map made up of groups of counties.  This was done so that a user can access the information faster than would otherwise be the case if it were one statewide map.  The user can click on the county map which, in turn, will show each school district boundaries broken down to the census block area.  There is a set of instructions for using the map. There are also some notes explaining the federal broadband definition and mapping polices at the current time to better explain the details revealed by the map.

The Census Block is the minimum area the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) uses when mapping where broadband is/is not in the United States as part of its policies aimed at deploying broadband to unserved areas (primarily rural and tribal) within America.  This information relies on reports filed by service providers with the FCC in their Form 477 filings.  This reflects the most recent public information and will be updated as the FCC releases broadband updates.  Other maps may be available but they are typically proprietary and/or require a considerable expenditure to map.

This PSU Rural Extension map is a cost-effective result that addresses the CAC’s suggestion and the pressing needs for information about broadband in our public school districts.  This map is simpler than the detailed financial and support information laid out in the earlier Auction 904 map.  This is limited only to public school districts and households within those districts.

PSU and the PUC are willing to provide a tele-conference explaining this map as well as the earlier Auction 904 map, particularly the differences between those maps, if desired.