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A new smartphone app aims to see if broadband access is really as strong as providers claim.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - The TestIT app allows users to measure their broadband speeds and share the data with NACo.

Columbia County Commissioners Alex Tardif and Henry Heimuller are encouraging community members to help collect data about broadband access around the county.

By downloading the smartphone app TestIT, users can run one-click tests to measure broadband speeds. The app was released by the National Association of Counties (NACo) last month and is available on the iTunes app store and Google Play.

The app will help NACo "determine if we really do have the coverage that the providers are saying we have or to show that we really don't have the coverage," Tardif said. "As those of us who live four miles off the highway know, you don't have cell service or good internet past that point."

Heimuller connected the app to the census, noting the importance of having accurate data on the county.

"The measuring device that the federal government uses is way too generic, way too generalized. But we're working on that as well," he said. With the app, "we can start assimilating information from all over the country as to what the reality is," he added.

Last year, Columbia County was awarded nearly $70,000 from Business Oregon to improve access to high-speed internet in the county.

Heimuller said he has so far used the app to test broadband connections in close to two dozen locations in and around Columbia County.

"I haven't found one yet that meets the federal minimum standard," Heimuller said. "So [there is] some work to do yet to get us all to coverage that really is needed for the 21st century."

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