DRIVE encourages residents to take an internet speed test to locate broadband holes

Feb. 20—DANVILLE — DRIVE Economic Development is seeking help from residents in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties to identify internet access areas of concern.

Running a simple test on a device within residents' homes may result in an improvement in their internet access.

Pennsylvania will be receiving just shy of $1.2 billion in Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding from the federal government. The Pennsylvania Development Broadband Authority will be the grantee of the funds and is tasked with determining how to distribute the money across the commonwealth to reach as many unserved and underserved locations as possible.

"The state broadband authority has to decide who their sub-grantees are going to be," DRIVE Executive Director Jennifer Wakeman said. "For potential sub-grantees to submit applications, they need to know what the areas to be covered are. That's what the challenge process is."

Submissions across Pennsylvania will challenge whether there is service in the location as well as the quality of the service being provided, Wakeman said.

"In talking with our team at DRIVE and some of our townships and county commissioners, everyone agrees we still don't have a really good handle on what's served and what's unserved in our area," Wakeman said.

Underserved is defined as anything between a low of 25 megabits per second, or Mbps, for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads and up to 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads. A rate under 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps is considered unserved, according to Timothy Hippensteel, DRIVE Office/Project Manager.

Wakeman said DRIVE decided it wasn't realistic to expect residents in unserved and underserved areas to submit their own challenges.

"We teamed up with a group out of Penn State, led by Sascha Meinrath, who has done a ton of work in this space," Wakeman said. "They have created some really cool tools to look at the speeds people are actually getting and the speeds that companies are claiming they're getting."

DRIVE has embedded the group's speed test into their website. The test can be accessed at and should take less than a minute to run, according to Hippensteel.

DRIVE would like residents in their five counties to run the test from their homes, particularly those who live in rural areas.

The test will prompt users to type in their address and it will present a map. Wakeman cautioned to make sure the location shown on the map is the user's house, and, if not, to be sure to move the pin shown on the map to the correct location. Users will then be wasked what kind of service they are running the test from (wifi, wired service, cellphone, etc.).

The test can be run multiple times on different devices or at different times of the day or week to ensure any service changes are noted in the data.

"Even if you do it multiple times at different times, the more information we have, the better," Hippensteel said.

The Penn State team will receive the data from the tests done in DRIVE's five-county area and will return it to DRIVE who will then be able to determine what changes should be made, according to Wakeman.

"The goal of the challenge is to very clearly define what's unserved, what's underserved and where the areas that we need to spend the BEAD money are," Wakeman said.

The DRIVE executive director said people are calling the BEAD funding "once-in-a-generation kind of money."

Before the state begins spending those funds, Wakeman said they need to know where it is needed most.

"If your service is bad and you know your service is bad, help us prove your service is bad," Wakeman said.

While DRIVE does not anticipate any particular county being significantly worse than the others, they expect the rural areas in all five counties to be the most unserved and underserved areas.

"At this point, everybody talks about broadband like utility," Wakeman said.

"It's like sewer, water, electricity or natural gas — you have to have it."

DRIVE will be collecting data through the test until the end of March, according to Wakeman.