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Correct flawed broadband data

Working and learning from home this spring made many Americans familiar with the online world. All too many lacked the experience, however, because they do not have access to high-speed broadband service.

That is especially a concern in areas such as ours, which are largely rural. Some school districts, desperate to link up online with homebound students, resorted to “mobile hotspots.” They were vehicles, sometimes school buses, outfitted with wireless networking equipment and driven from point to point to allow rural students internet access for a few hours a week.

Federal officials have pledged for years to do something about the tens of millions of Americans who lack access to broadband service. The coronavirus epidemic lent new urgency and emphasis to that.

But understanding the extent of any problem has to be a first step in rectifying it. There is evidence many in Washington do not comprehend just how serious the problem is.

You can get an idea of Federal Communications Commission officials’ view of the challenge by visiting the agency website that purports to track internet access throughout the nation. It is at broadbandmap.fcc.gov.

Well, you can check the map if you have access, which many people in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio do not.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been hounding FCC officials for years about their unrealistic perceptions of broadband access, especially in West Virginia. He has resorted to enlisting high school students to help him show what the situation really is in some areas. A few weeks ago, a group of Lewis County High School students collected data Manchin says proves the FCC coverage maps are incorrect.

Manchin is right that the FCC cannot help people get broadband where they live if the agency thinks they have it already. That lack of reliable information needs to be corrected, or many people in areas such as ours will never get the high-speed access to the online world that has become vital.

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