Smart phone app to take measure of rural broadband

Photo by Deb Gau Lyon County Commissioner Gary Crowley showed the results of a broadband speed test at the Lyon County Government Center.

MARSHALL — People living in southwest Minnesota know about the challenges of getting a good Internet connection. But in order to help fix the problem, they might need to spread the word about it first. Lyon County officials said this week they’re encouraging people to use a free smart phone app that will help highlight areas of low Internet connectivity across the U.S.

The TestIT app allows users to test their broadband speed with the press of a button, and see how it compares to the national average and minimum standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. The app also collects a snapshot of the test data and location, to show what Internet connectivity is like in areas around the country.

Lyon County Board Chairman Gary Crowley said Wednesday that he’s already tried running the speed test on his own internet connection.

“I thought we had pretty good speed, but it wasn’t,” Crowley said. While his connection might have been good enough for him, Crowley said high-speed Internet access is crucial for area residents.

“Reliable, speedy Internet is increasingly important for work, education, social connections, and even health care,” Crowley said.

But there are areas in the county where cell phone reception and internet connectivity is still poor, Crowley and Lyon County Auditor/Treasurer E.J. Moberg said. Crowley said he encouraged area residents to download and use the TestIT app, to help document the problem.

The TestIT app was developed through a partnership of three national advocacy groups, the National Association of Counties, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, and Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). Using the information gathered by the app, the three organizations hope to advocate for broadband infrastructure funding nationwide.

“Access to affordable, high-speed Internet is essential to connect people and places and compete in today’s economy,” said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties, in a news release. “Outdated broadband mapping techniques limit Congress’ ability to accurately identify and allocate broadband coverage and help guide federal, state and local decision-making.”

A 2018 study conducted by Microsoft found that 19 million rural Americans don’t use broadband, largely because of a lack of access, the release said.

Moberg said Lyon County officials learned about the TestIT app last week, and saw it could potentially benefit county residents. Moberg said county staff tested out the app — their main concern was to make sure it didn’t track users’ phones or use personal information.

According to the TestIT app’s privacy statement, app only collects connectivity data like upload and download speeds, as well as the test’s geographic location and IP address. The app doesn’t collect personal or identifiable information from users, the National Association of Counties said. However, it will allow users to help bring awareness to the need for high-speed Internet access across the country.

Moberg and Crowley say they hope the information gathered by TestIT will help lead to additional state and federal funding for rural broadband.

The TestIT app is available to download for both iOS and Android phones. More information on the app is available at the Lyon County website, lyonco.org.

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