Ashley Littell, GISP, is the manager of GIS services for Connected Nation. Littell answered questions 1-4. Anne W. Neville is the state broadband data and development program director for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She answered question 5.
Directions Magazine (DM): What is it specifically that Connected Nation provides to the states with which it works? Is it GIS support services? Creating online mapping portals that show the progress for network build-out of additional cable, fiber or other communications infrastructure?
Ashley Littell (AL): Connected Nation provides technical and operational expertise to help states implement broadband expansion initiatives. This includes GIS support services, survey research, awareness building, as well as policy and engineering consulting. We are gathering data from hundreds of providers, hospitals, schools, etc. and publishing a current picture of broadband build-out using our GIS services for 12 states and Puerto Rico.
Under the direction of the State Broadband Data and Development (SBDD) grant program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the data gathered in these programs will be included in the National Broadband Map scheduled for release in February 2011. Included on each of the state websites are maps displaying the broadband inventory, an analysis of the density of unserved households in the state, and an interactive mapping resource called BroadbandStat. We are able to provide in-depth analysis and break out the data by both speed tiers and platforms.
It provides policymakers with a unique perspective on the state's broadband infrastructure and illustrates the progress the state is making toward meeting the broadband adoption goals established on a national level. These tools help state leaders and businesses make informed decisions about technology investments and expansion plans in their area.
DM: Will you gather the geospatial data necessary to create online mapping portals or do you rely on existing data from state sources? What is the primary source of your data?
AL: We gather data from a variety of public and private sources to be able to present a comprehensive view of both availability and adoption. The primary source of data is the providers. Connected Nation works directly with broadband providers to develop the statewide broadband inventory for each state.
After providers submit data on their service areas, they are supplied with a confidential map(s) of their processed information to verify the accuracy of the display. After aggregated broadband inventory maps and BroadbandStat are published on the website, consumer feedback becomes another method of data verification. Consumers are encouraged to provide feedback through BroadbandStat, the online broadband inquiry form, or by e-mailing or calling in their inquiry. Feedback on the maps is then used to verify broadband service areas displayed on the maps with providers and make changes as necessary.
DM: Is BroadbandStat based on other initiatives like StateStat and CityStat? Please explain how this program will be used by policymakers.
AL: BroadbandStat was developed in a partnership between Connected Nation and Esri based on features we wanted to add to our original interactive mapping portals to make sure it was a friendly tool for both the industry and consumers. BroadbandStat is a leading broadband resource for local leaders, policymakers, consumers and technology providers to devise a plan for the expansion and adoption of broadband. Since we launched in February 2010, the portals have been accessed more than 40,000 times for research sessions. The application allows users to build and evaluate broadband expansion scenarios using a wealth of data collected through the SBDD program. The broadband-related data can be used for grant writing, broadband investment and economic development. In addition, they give the public the ability to find information about broadband providers down to the street level.
DM: What is the goal of Connected Nation for regions that are not served or are underserved by broadband? How do you propose to help these states? Do you determine the plans by which the states more effectively utilize existing NTIA funds?
AL: For regions that are not served or are underserved, the goal of Connected Nation is to assist with the expansion of broadband services through data visualization and public-private partnerships. The focus through GIS is to be able to show policymakers and providers where there are opportunities to improve broadband service or make it available for the first time. While Connected Nation does not determine the plans by which states more effectively utilize NTIA funds, we make suggestions through data exploration and the expertise we bring in from working with states prior to the SBDD program. For instance, we partnered with Iowa to release a comprehensive report called the Iowa Broadband: Current Market Analysis & Initial Recommendations For Acceleration of Iowa's Broadband Market [pdf]. This report will help shape the Iowa Broadband Deployment and Governance Board's creation and implementation of the statewide broadband plan.
DM: What is the ultimate goal for NTIA? Is it to have 100% broadband coverage for the entire U.S.? What is acceptable within a 5-year timeframe?
Anne W. Neville: Through the State Broadband Data and Development Program, NTIA awarded grants to the 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia to support the efficient and creative use of broadband technology to improve their economies. These state-created efforts vary depending on local needs, but include programs to assist small businesses and community institutions in using technology more effectively, research to investigate barriers to broadband adoption, innovative applications that increase access to government services and information, and state and local task forces to expand broadband access and adoption.
In addition, since accurate data are critical for broadband planning, another primary purpose of the grant program is to assist states in gathering data twice a year on the availability, speed and location of broadband services, as well as the broadband services that community institutions, such as schools, libraries and hospitals, use. These data will be critical to benchmarking each state's progress in improving availability and will also inform the states' implementation of their other projects. In combination with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, these efforts support our ultimate goal of expanding broadband access and adoption across America by supporting innovative build-out and adoption programs.