A Tale of Three Datasets: Towards Characterizing Mobile Broadband Access in the United States


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Understanding and improving mobile broadband deployment is critical to bridging the digital divide and targeting future investments. Yet accurately mapping mobile coverage is challenging. In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a report on the progress of mobile broadband deployment in the United States. This report received a significant amount of criticism with claims that the cellular coverage, mainly available through Long-Term Evolution (LTE), was over-reported in some areas, especially those that are rural and/or tribal [12]. We evaluate the validity of this criticism using a quantitative analysis of both the dataset from which the FCC based its report and a crowdsourced LTE coverage dataset. Our analysis is focused on the state of New Mexico, a region characterized by diverse mix of demographics-geography and poor broadband access. We then performed a controlled measurement campaign in northern New Mexico during May 2019. Our findings reveal significant disagreement between the crowdsourced dataset and the FCC dataset regarding the presence of LTE coverage in rural and tribal census blocks, with the FCC dataset reporting higher coverage than the crowdsourced dataset. Interestingly, both the FCC and the crowdsourced data report higher coverage compared to our on-the-ground measurements. Based on these findings, we discuss our recommendations for improved LTE coverage measurements, whose importance has only increased in the COVID-19 era of performing work and school from home, especially in rural and tribal areas.
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Key words
mobile broadband access,three datasets,united states
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