Presenting Our National Broadband Map. It’s a Start.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) unveiled a nationwide broadband map for the U.S. today, and said “between five and ten percent of Americans don’t have broadband.” The map may be a disappointment for some, who hoped to see broadband availability by address, actual speeds and provider. But the NTIA provides an opportunity for folks to submit their own information, which means the map could improve.

The information will also be available via an API and in a form folks can download. It will be updated every six months and has some nifty ways to rank broadband speeds and showcase how the nation’s broadband doesn’t quite serve what the FCC and NTIA calls “public anchor institutions” which includes libraries and schools. A related report released today by the NTIA noted two-thirds of surveyed schools subscribe to speeds lower than 25 Mbps despite needing connections between 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps. These anchor institutions could be thought of as gateway drugs for getting folks online, and thus, the FCC and the NTIA want to make sure they have the best access. When the map is released at later this afternoon, I look forward to both exploring this type of data and adding some information about broadband connections in my area.

The five-year cost associated with building and maintaining the map is $200 million, according to Larry Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Department of Commerce and the administrator for the NTIA. Congress had budgeted $350 million in total, although some states contributed funding and information to this map as well.

A nationwide broadband map was first called for under the Broadband Data Improvement Act in 2008, but Congress never funded its creation, leaving it essentially stranded. In 2009, with the passage of the broadband stimulus program under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the mapping project was finally funded. We’ve covered the challenges inherent in creating a broadband map, and some of our issues with the plans to create the map that was unveiled today, but even if this isn’t perfect, it’s in a form that has an opportunity to evolve.

Below are some more fun facts from the report released by the NTIA:

  • In 2010, 68 percent of households had broadband access, as compared to 63.5 percent in 2009. (Broadband was defined as Internet access service that uses DSL, cable modem, fiber optics, mobile broadband, and other high-speed Internet access services.)
  • The digital divide between urban and rural areas is still significant. In 2010, 70 percent of urban households and only 60 percent of rural households accessed broadband Internet service.
  • Overall, the two most commonly cited main reasons for not having broadband Internet access at home are that it’s perceived as not needed (46 percent) or it’s considered too expensive (25 percent).
  • However, in rural America, the lack of broadband availability is a bigger reason for non-adoption than in urban areas (9.4 percent vs. 1 percent). Americans also cite the lack of a computer as a factor.
  • Despite the growing importance of the Internet in American life, 28.3 percent of all persons do not use the Internet in any location, down from 31.6 percent in 2009.

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