On February 17, the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) unveiled the National Broadband Map. According to the press release, the map is a "searchable nationwide map of broadband Internet availability -- and the results of a new nationwide survey on broadband adoption." Editor in Chief Joe Francica contacted Connected Nation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that is promoting broader adoption of broadband access, to provide its analysis of the NTIA's map. The comments are those of Ashley Littell, manager of GIS Services for Connected Nation.
Directions Magazine (DM): What are the biggest surprises that the new map reveals regarding coverage? Can we expect the FCC to take action to force carriers to improve coverage, especially in rural areas not well-served?
Ashley Littell (AL): The broadband landscape varies from state to state and even more so at the local level, people will be able to find interesting and surprising coverage details wherever they look. While Connected Nation has produced and published broadband inventory maps using data collected for the State Broadband Data & Development (SBDD) program since spring 2010, the National Broadband Map will allow for a comprehensive view of the fifty-six states and territories that encompass the United States. At the federal level, essential policy questions, such as the effect of federal “universal service” subsidy programs on broadband availability in rural and other areas, have often been debated in the absence of the basic data contained in the National Broadband Map. In fact, just last week, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to redirect up to $1 billion in current federal universal service subsidies to areas the map marks as unserved. Similarly, state and local broadband policymakers will use the map to inform government infrastructure initiatives, planning projects, and adoption programs.
DM: Will the map be able to show the disparity in mobile download speeds across the country and what expectations might this reveal about how location-based information might be used to spur competition?
AL: The National Broadband Map will allow users to display broadband coverage by technology types (cable, DSL, fiber, fixed wireless, mobile wireless, etc.), by download and upload speeds, and any combination of the two. Users will be able to view mobile wireless coverage and see what speeds are available across all service areas. Competition can be spurred just by viewing the data, where anyone believing an area to be underserved or unserved can begin making expansion plans.
DM: What are some of the local barriers to service that will be revealed by the new map? Can it provide the necessary details to allow elected officials the kind of transparency needed to encourage investment in new services?
AL: Some of the local barriers to service that are revealed by the National Broadband Map include geographic barriers, such as mountains and rivers, as well as urban/rural disparities. Local officials will be able to use the map and analysis data to determine where certain barriers have typically hampered service expansion and be able to compare it to similar parts of the country to see what has been done to expand broadband. They can also review the layout of the land with demographic information to see where high population density areas exist in currently unserved areas to create priority regions for broadband expansion efforts.
DM: What is the estimate of the potential economic impact for growth within a region currently underserved by broadband service? (For example, Michigan estimated that high-speed Internet connections report having median annual revenues $200,000 more than businesses without broadband.)
AL: In 2008, we estimated that a seven-point increase in broadband adoption nationally would garner a direct economic impact of $134 billion. Across Connected Nation states, broadband-connected businesses have median revenues that are $200,000 greater than businesses that don’t use broadband. There are 630,000 businesses in Connected Nation states/territories that don’t use broadband; if each of those increased their annual revenues by $200,000, that would total an additional $128 billion in revenues in just those jurisdictions.
DM: What’s next? How will Connected Nation be able to act on the information revealed by the map? Do you expect additional funding for more projects?
AL: The National Broadband Map is a dynamic application that will be continuously updated. While the initial release on February 17 shows broadband data current as of June 30, 2010, (data submitted to NTIA for the October data submission), there will continue to be semi-annual updates collected, processed, and provided to update the National Broadband Map. The features and functions available in the map provide a way for providers, policymakers, and consumers to visualize a rich dataset and be able to create meaningful analyses. While the stimulus funding for broadband mapping and expansion projects has been allocated, there are still additional opportunities for additional funding; for example, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval recently announced a $3 million initiative to get broadband to rural residents of Nevada.
DM: What additional information do you expect from the introduction of the National Broadband Map and how will Connected Nation continue to serve the nation’s need for expanded coverage?
AL: The introduction of the National Broadband Map will certainly lead to more attention being directed to the parts of the United States that are still without basic broadband services. Much like the electrification of rural America and the construction of the national interstate system, broadband Internet access is the next step in getting all citizens connected. Connected Nation will continue to work on behalf of states to collect, process, and submit broadband data for inclusion with the National Broadband Map; we will also continue to develop additional analyses and produce maps that give stakeholders and policymakers a meaningful visualization tool to guide discussion.
Connected Nation’s work in this trailblazing and unparalleled data collection effort has involved its partner states of Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. We are working in these state and territories to address the technology gaps identified through the mapping process and will be supporting broadband task force planning efforts, establishing regional technology teams, and creating specialized educational and awareness programs to increase adoption.