February 18, 2011

NTIA Unveils National Broadband Map

According to a national broadband map released by the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in cooperation with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as many as one in ten Americans do not have Internet connections that are fast enough for online activities such as watching videos or teleconferencing, and 65 percent of schools have broadband connections that are too slow to meet their needs.

The national broadband map, which shows what types of high-speed Internet connections are available, or not, across the entire country, and was mandated by the 2009 economic stimulus bill, went live Thursday at

Government officials are hoping the map will help guide telecoms, public interest groups, researchers and policymakers as they move forward to try to bring high-speed Internet to even the most remote areas of the United States. They also hope the map serves as a valuable tool for consumers who just want to find out what broadband options are available to them.

The broadband map was developed using open-source software such as the OpenGEO Suite and WordPress, and the NTIA and FCC will make the map's application programming interfaces (APIs) available to all developers and entrepreneurs who want to offer services tied to the map, agency officials said. The agencies said the data will be updated every six months, and the map includes a feature where users can report information about broadband providers in their area.

Consumers will be able to type an address into the map and pull up a list of local broadband providers for their area, along with details about the types of high-speed connections they offer and just how fast those connections are.

The map also allows users to run all kinds of comparison studies -- ranking counties across the state by the fastest broadband speeds or allowing consumers to look up where their own county ranks on a national scale.

It can also produce snapshots of an entire community that could be useful for local economic developers or realty agents -- showing what percent of a county has access to particular types of broadband technologies or how many schools and hospitals in the area have ultra-fast connectivity.

"There are still too many people and community institutions lacking the level of broadband service needed to fully participate in the Internet economy," Lawrence E. Strickling, head of the NTIA, told The Associated Press (AP).

The FCC released its national broadband plan last year that set a goal of connecting 100 million US households to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second by 2020. Many home connections now are limited to less than 5 megabits per second.

The map clearly shows that many Americans do not have access to the best networks, Tom Koutsky, chief policy counsel for Connected Nation, a non-profit that did the mapping work in 13 states, told AP's Joelle Tessler.

Even for those many Americans who do receive broadband, he said, the map shows an emerging gap between those who have ultra-fast connectivity -- often delivered over fiber-optic lines -- and those who are stuck with basic services, such as digital subscriber line access, which may be too slow for the Internet of the future.

The NTIA awarded grants to agencies in every state to collect, confirm and package the data for the national map, which was compiled by the NTIA and FCC. The project, which will be updated twice a year, cost an estimated $200 million over five years. The raw data comes from nearly 1,650 Internet service providers.

While government officials expect the map will help form the future of broadband connectivity, it comes too late to help guide the Commerce Department and Agriculture Department officials who have awarded more than $7 billion in stimulus money to pay for high-speed Internet networks and other broadband projects across the country over the past two years.

However, the data will help set priorities for federal programs such as the Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service and the Universal Service Fund, which spend billions annually to subsidize telecom services. The FCC is in the process of overhauling the Universal Service Fund, which currently pays for telephone service in rural and poor communities, to subsidize broadband.

President Barack Obama argues that broadband can play a crucial role in bringing new business and new economic opportunities to deprived communities. High-speed Internet can also make it possible for healthcare providers to consult with patients and other doctors over great distances, for students to take online classes at universities across the country and for governments to deliver services more efficiently.

The NTIA also released new figures on broadband information on Thursday.

About 68 percent of Americans subscribe to broadband now, compared to 63.5 percent last year, said Rebecca Blank, acting deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTIA's parent agency.

The growth is good, "but when you dig deeper into the data, it's clear that we still have work to do," she said.

Other figures show that white households have a broadband adoption rate about 20 percent higher than African-American or Hispanic households, said Blank. The adoption rate in rural areas is about 10 percent behind urban areas, she added.


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