One of the challenges that policymakers have faced in trying to bring broadband to every American has been the lack of a national map or database identifying the specific areas that don’t yet have broadband available. With no definitive data identifying unserved areas, federal agencies have wasted money on subsidies in areas where consumers are already served by broadband providers operating without a government subsidy.
As part of the 2009 federal stimulus package, Congress recognized the importance of developing a nationwide broadband map and allocated funding for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and state mapping entities to prepare such a map. The first iteration of the map was rolled out today.
The cable industry has been very supportive of the federal broadband mapping initiative. NCTA and our member companies have worked closely with NTIA and the state mapping entities to provide granular deployment information. We’ve been impressed by the work of the state entities and by NTIA’s leadership in bringing this first phase of the project to completion by the statutory deadline.
But as impressive as this effort has been, it is important to recognize its limitations. As others have suggested, the map released today should be considered Version 1.0. And like any initial release of software, it will need to be refined and improved over time in order to reach its full potential.
Acknowledging that this is the first step in an ongoing iterative process is in no way a criticism of NTIA or the state mapping entities – it is simply the inevitable byproduct of a massive, first-of-its-kind data collection effort.
For example, while some of the mapping entities had experience with this sort of data collection, many were undertaking it for the first time.
It’s also likely that many of the thousands of broadband providers operating in the U.S. will not be counted – some because they were unaware of the project and others because they were unable or unwilling to provide state agencies with the necessary data. Even among those providers that did participate, errors are inevitable because the specific data submitted by the mapping entities to NTIA – a list of census blocks where broadband service is available – is not data that providers routinely track in the normal course of business. Recognizing the wide range of potential shortcomings, many of the underlying state maps have been marked “draft” or “beta” when they have been posted online.
So while the Broadband Map Version 1.0 is an important contribution to the broadband policy discussion, we fully expect that future maps will yield even better data and that any gaps between NTIA’s results and data from other sources will narrow. As that happens, the NTIA Broadband Map should develop into an increasingly valuable tool for policymakers to target scarce resources where they are needed most.