Detroit residents to conduct their own broadband audit after historic outage Thumbnail Image

Detroit residents to conduct their own broadband audit after historic outage is working to help local communities to win and defend their share of broadband grant funding.

Pioneering local broadband champions – like those in the city of Detroit — get their own Community Broadband Kit to collect on-the-ground broadband performance tests and survey data, so that they can determine their own broadband needs and present them in empirical form to broadband grant makers and service providers.’s Community Broadband Kit contains a built-in messaging system with a custom-branded template to invite individuals and community anchor institutions to participate. It also contains instructions with tips and guidance for getting the test in front of communities.

The kit was inspired by a presentation conducted this May during the Mountain Connect conference, and a talk given this past June by a MLab’s Project Director Lai-Yi Ohlsen and the Marconi Society’s National Broadband Mapping Coalition Program Manager Dustin Loup.

The session was about how local communities can most effectively measure and map broadband availability and coverage in their areas. The duo recommended and provided useful guidance including the recommendation to include multiple tests in performance tests in order to get a more comprehensive view of an area’s connectivity, since the different tests use different methodologies. This document provides further details of their recommendations, as well as recommendations from the Broadband Mapping Coalition.’s Broadband Community Kit has incorporated these recommendations.

Ohlsen and Loup’s performance and survey test recommendations are being built into an open-source broadband performance test that can be widely distributed online and adopted by thousands of communities and regional and local providers across the country to generate the empirical data they need to win and defend their broadband grants against incumbent telecom providers making bogus claims a about areas that they already serve, but in fact don’t.

One of the flagship locations that demonstrates this constant battle is the city of Detroit, where more than a quarter of residents don’t have access to high-speed broadband, and 70 percent of school age children don’t have broadband at home. A lawsuit was also filed against an incumbent carrier in 2017 accusing it of digital redlining after an academic published a study showing that the carrier hadn’t made significant investments in its networks in census blocks with poverty rates above 35 percent. The carrier denied that it ignores high poverty areas.

More recently, thousands of Detroiters suffered from a 45 day internet outage from a commercial provider during the height of the pandemic last year. (You can hear more about that in the podcast episode below. It is also downloadable through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.)

Now Detroiters will be able to use our Broadband Community Kit to conduct a broadband audit to demonstrate their level of need.

A broadband audit is a statistically valid survey of a census block or other local geographic areas defined by state grant making authorities for broadband availability.

The survey would consist of internet performance measurements undertaken multiple times a day under varying network traffic conditions, but under established parameters, such as the distances packets of data have to travel between specified servers.

Performance, as defined by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, includes measurements of upload and download speeds and latency.

Local communities and providers can dispute their state broadband office’s broadband connectivity profiles of their communities with challenges backed up by their broadband audits.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act requires each state and territory to conduct a challenge process before they can be given their allotted funding as determined by an IIJA formula.

That process enables local governments, nonprofit organizations, or providers to challenge state and territories’ determinations of local areas’ connectivity and grant funding needs as defined by number of locations that are unserved and underserved in their IIJA BEAD grant funding application to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The worry is that states may undercount the number of locations needing grant funding because of exaggerated coverage claims by incumbent providers, or because of other faulty data.  

The IIJA determines that locations are unserved if they have connections that can only manage speeds of less than 25/3 Mbps upload/download. Underserved areas are those locations that have connections that offer speeds of less than 100/20 Mbps.

The Community Broadband Kit is in beta and will be launched for public use mid September, ahead of the eligibility and challenge processes.

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