The National Broadband Map – what we can learn. | Tele-Tech Services Blog

The National Broadband Map – what we can learn.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (a division of the Department of Commerce) maintains a searchable and interactive map of high-speed Internet availability within the United States.  This tool is called the National Broadband Map (NBM). The graphic can be found below (also at www.broadbandmap.gov). Through a collaborative effort with the FCC, data is collected and compiled every 6 months from service providers.

nbm-graphic

In the U.S., people who live along the densely populated coastal areas as well as highly developed metropolises take high-speed Internet for granted. Once considered a new and exciting luxury back in the late 1990s, today broadband is thought of as a common utility like electricity or water.

But as we shall discuss, the National Broadband Map (NBM) indicates this experience is not true for everyone in the U.S.

The Wild East

At first glance, the most striking observation is how imbalanced the coverage is relative to the geography. In the previous two decades, the Internet was often referred to as the “wild west” because of lack of regulation, anonymity, and an anything-goes environment. So, it’s ironic that a quick glance at the map shows the West and the internet don’t have that much in common. If anything, the Internet should be referred-to as the “Wild East” since much more traffic is flowing on the eastern half of the United States.

Show me the Money

But just as high-speed internet is lopsided to the east, so is the population.  This has the unfortunate effect of exacerbating the digital divide. Obviously, the ISPs are going to build out where the money is. And, that money is going to be in higher concentrations of consumers willing to pay. So in a way, we could make the conclusion that just as the map shows concentrations of Internet data flowing, it is also telling us where the money is.

But, that may not always be true. And, in cases where there is money, but less broadband, ISP planners should take note. For example, consider the Dakotas which were dramatically affected by the oil boom in recent years.

Arguments against Accuracy and Usefulness

Since the inception of the initiative in 2009, the critics have argued the map is a waste of tax money for a few reasons. The first is the expensive way in which the data is collected.  As argued by Benjamin Lennett, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute:

So in 2009, the stimulus act allotted an additional $350 million to give the FCC another chance to gather this information and present it in an understandable way. That project, the National Broadband Map, was released last February, and it’s a least an improvement over the old effort. But it didn’t require all that money to make this happen. All the FCC really had to do to produce virtually the same map was ask better questions in its existing survey of telecom companies and release more of the data. Instead, taxpayers had to fork out another few hundred million in grants to collect much of the same data a second time. Source

Secondly, was the fact that the information is being collected from the ISPs. While they may be reporting truthfully, the opportunity exists to inflate coverage. What should really be done is to have the data collected by a neutral party not subject to the influence of the ISPs.

Lastly, is the way in which the data is reported. For instance, an ISP can report the availability of service for an area in an entire zip code even if only a small portion of that zip code has the broadband availability. In other words, because chunks of geography area labeled as all or nothing, it’s easy to get inflated numbers.

A Flawed tool is better than no Tool

Whether critics’ accusations are true or not, the NBM at face-value tells us there is a lot of useful information. And, since the map is only about 4 years old, it has room for improvement. Population growth and high-speed Internet are symbiotic so the map is a good dashboard for real estate developers, city planners and markets.

Again, the map is interactive and you can apply different overlays for different types of service. If you get the time, go check it out. You might be surprised what you learn.


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