Reactions to the Nationwide Broadband Map

February 23, 2011

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 I'm just not that interested in the U.S. national broadband mapping effort. I know it's necessary in order to get broadband to those who do not have it. I know it's good to have federal funding for mapping. I know it creates jobs. I know it helps push the envelope with mapping and transparency. I am excited, for example, to see the state offerings from Oklahoma and Massachusetts that use open source. The final U.S. map does as well.

I did some research to check out reactions to the federal map announced on Thursday, Feb. 17. This is a non-scientific, non-representative subset. I grouped the reactions into three categories:

  1. The map app and data
  2. The patterns on the map
  3. The cost/value of the map

The Map App and Data

When the map went live yesterday, the response was astounding, with the number of requests to the website averaging more than 1,000 per second! Below is just a short list of the metrics we observed on our first day;
  •     Total hits yesterday: 158,123,884
  •     Hits served by cache: 141,068,348 (89.21%)
  •     Total Bytes Transferred: 863GB
  •     Peak Requests per Second: 8,970
  •     Average Requests per Second: 1,095
  •     Visits in the first 10 hours: over 500,000
This phenomenal response shows that the investment of time, energy, and - not least of all - Congressional funds were well worth it. The National Broadband Map clearly has a market of interest, and we're extremely proud to see that market being well served.

- Michael Byrne, FCC, at the Broadband Map Blog

Developers and tech innovators will love it, and critics might pick it apart. Here are my initial thoughts - Wow. Kind of like what I thought the first time I saw Google Maps in 2005. Obviously the National Broadband Map won't reach the same consumer audience, but I believe the FCC may have changed the game for visualizing data.
The site (for lack of a better term -- it's more than just a map) may well define what citizens, and decision makers come to expect of other government sites. Obviously only time will tell but consider these points.
  1. Wicked fast (I was using Chrome)
  2. Fairly simple yet deep in content
  3. Open API's that can be accessed in a variety of ways  Hello-
  4. (not that I am smart enough to use them, still important)
  5. Open source components
  6. Ability to download data in several ways
  7. Did I mention wicked fast? This site is hitting national data sets with fast returns.

- Learon Dalby, GIS Program Manager for the Arkansas Geographic Information Office, writing at GISUser

The designers of the map said during the press briefing that it embodied "the spirit of the Internet through open formats and protocols." Specifically, the National Broadband Map was built on the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) familiar to open source developers everywhere. Currently, the site has around 35 RESTful APIs that will enable developers to write applications to look at specific providers. The open government data behind the National Broadband Map can also be downloaded for anyone to use. According to Commerce Department officials, this data will be updated twice a year over the next five years.

- Alex Howard writing at O'Reilly Radar

The highlight is the gallery of maps (click on "Show Gallery" on the bottom). The above map, for example, shows population density and average broadband speed. There are three color scales for broadband ranges. Green is low, yellow is medium, and red is fastest. Then the darker the shades within those color scales are, the greater the population density is.

The site is still kind of clunky, partially because they seem to be getting hit hard with traffic right now, but this is leaps and bounds better than most government sites. It's easier to navigate, provides a lot of information, and lets you explore what you want relatively quickly. Your turn, Census Bureau.

- Nathan Yau, a UCLA Ph.D. candidate in statistics with a focus in data visualization, writing at the Flowing Data Blog

The broadband map was developed using open-source software such as the OpenGEO Suite and WordPress, and the agencies will make the map's APIs (application programming interfaces) available to all developers and entrepreneurs who want to offer services tied to the map, NTIA and FCC officials said.

- Grant Gross in his piece, “Broadband Falls Short in U.S.” in PC World

"It is a shame that the map's potential value is severely crippled by incumbents' refusal to provide the one element of data that is key to the main reason for having the map -- accurate speeds," he [community broadband consultant Craig Settles] said. "By and large, this map will always be incomplete. The two pieces of data needed by federal, state and local governments to create useful broadband policy and to spend money effectively for broadband projects are actual speeds plus a true picture of the competitive landscape within any given area."

The map's crowd-sourcing feature will update slowly, Settles added. "More importantly, if a community doesn't have a broadband connection crowd-sourcing data from them will be a little difficult," he added.

- Craig Settles quoted in PC World

@BroadbandMap What a waste of taxpayer money! I want my money back! Your website is slow, barely functional, and inaccurate. #pork
- @ csharpengineer, Brandon Ryan

do the people who designed this really expect the service providers to give them accurate data? #nbmap
 - @2Chicos Chico

100% open source, the way GIS should be: #nbmap
- @xactoeric, xactoeric

The Patterns on the Map

A first-of-its-kind federal survey of online access found that Americans in lower-income and rural areas often have slower Internet connections than users in wealthier communities.

- Cecilia Kang writing at the Washington Post

Try actually traveling to these areas [ones with little or no broadband] and you'll understand. This is a huge country without a lot of people. Most of it is empty. People playing this comparison game with vastly different population and geographic profiles are trying to lie in order to get taxpayer handouts. Don't fall for it.

- Comment by Anonymous at Computerworld

Large swaths of the western and southern U.S. do not have access to wired or fixed wireless broadband, according to a new national broadband map released by two U.S. agencies Thursday.

- Grant Gross in his piece, “Broadband Falls Short in U.S.” in PC World

The US Fed Govt's @BroadbandMap, for assessing US broadband penetration, is awful. It's a bad sign for rural folks.
-  @jimheid, Jim Heid

The Cost/Value of the Map

 Some critics of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress in early 2009, said the bill should not have authorized the NTIA and the U.S. Rural Utilities Service to award about US$7 billion in broadband deployment grants and loans before the map was completed. The legislation required the two agencies to award the money by late 2010, while the deadline for the map to be available was Thursday. ...
The map project, which will cost about $200 million over five years, includes money for states to update their broadband data. Data from about 1,600 broadband providers is included in the map, officials said.

- Grant Gross in his piece, “Broadband Falls Short in U.S.” in PC World

But AT&T Vice President of Public Policy Jeff Brueggeman said the bottom line is the project has produced the most detailed map of its kind.

"We shouldn't get lost in pointing out the map's flaws, or what we consider its flaws, and forgetting the positive direction the map takes us," he wrote in a company blog post. "While we tend to focus on national broadband policies here within the beltway, the map will support ongoing broadband initiatives at the state and local level."

- Josh Smith writing in NextGov

even awesomer is the new National @BroadbandMap :: fantastic work. finally a good use for tax $ :: #nbmap
- @JonCotton, Jon Cotton


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