Microsoft has unveiled what it calls a Digital Equity Data Dashboard that the company hopes will help in directing broadband funding to the right places.
As a blog post from Vickie Robinson, general manager of the Microsoft Airband initiative explains, the dashboard “goes census tract-by-census tract, examining 20 different indicators of digital equity – such as broadband access, usage, education and poverty rates – to create one of the most complete pictures of digital equity in these areas to date.”
Microsoft’s AI for Good Lab factored in the various indicators to arrive at a digital equity or inequity rating for every census tract nationwide, then color-coded census tracts to indicate the digital equity or inequity level in each tract.
As a provider of software that is widely used by businesses and consumers, Microsoft has access to data about the speeds at which end users are accessing the internet on a geographic basis and that information also factors into the company’s analysis. The company notes, for example, that 97% of Ferry County, Washington is not using the internet at broadband speeds – a measurement that reflects both broadband availability and affordability.
Microsoft has used its own data in the past to question the accuracy of FCC broadband availability data, which has been shown to overestimate broadband availability.
Efforts on the part of the company and others to call attention to this issue helped drive the federal government to make funding available to update broadband availability data and the FCC hopes to have an updated and more accurate National Broadband Map available later this year.
As Robinson notes, though, the digital divide isn’t just felt in rural areas, which are most likely to lack broadband; it’s also felt in urban areas. As she explains in the blog post, the dashboard enables users to examine a city neighborhood-by-neighborhood, helping identify which areas most urgently need digital equity investment.
The Microsoft Digital Equity Data Dashboard comes at a time when the federal government has made an unprecedented amount of funding available for broadband, including deployment, digital equity and adoption and affordability programs.
“We hope this dashboard will empower the policymakers to implement programs that foster sustainable and inclusive economic opportunity and deliver on this fundamental need to close the digital divide,” said Robinson.