The National Broadband Map

By Tom Koutsky, Chief Policy Counsel, Connected Nation

On Thursday, February 17, 2011, the Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will release the National Broadband Map. For the first time, the American consumer will have access to comprehensive information on broadband service availability, speed tiers, and network options to their home. And policymakers at both the state and federal level will have access to information on the nation’s broadband infrastructure that will guide policy for years to come.

The National Broadband Map is the product of multiple years of effort, which began with a series of state-led initiatives. The map that will be launched this week is the result of the work of fifty-six states and territories, the FCC and NTIA, and nonprofit public-private partnerships like Connected Nation. It is detailed, fastidious work – with regard to the thirteen states and territories that we have helped map, Connected Nation has received and reviewed data from over 1,200 service providers, over a third of which have been validated by field teams. All told, our contribution to this project covers over 39 million households.

For Connected Nation, the National Broadband Map launch marks not only an important milestone in implementation of these 13 grant programs, it also marks a decade of work. Ten years ago, a tiny nonprofit, public-private partnership called ConnectKentucky was formed and entered into a partnership with the state government to accelerate broadband availability and adoption in the state. And we immediately recognized that there was a fundamental lack of basic information on broadband infrastructure in the state – how could we possibly promote adoption and use without even a snapshot of availability?

Well, rather than asking the question to the wind, ConnectKentucky sought to change that data deficit. It obtained information from service providers in the state, hired and sent out teams of engineers, poured over service and customer address logs, and released the first state comprehensive broadband inventory map in 2005.

This map went well beyond the “ZIP-Code” level data that the FCC was publishing at the time. And it was a self-started, state-driven effort by Kentucky that spawned a movement of similar projects in Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, and elsewhere. Ultimately that state-driven initiative led to Congress unanimously passing the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008, which provided the foundation for the National Broadband Map released this week.

The release of the map is only the beginning – it will continue to inform and shape the policy debate. Last week, President Obama announced the Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative, in which he proposed to funnel $5 billion raised from spectrum auctions to build out “4G” wireless infrastructure in areas that trail the rest of the country. Similarly, the FCC last week proposed to direct one-time broadband universal service funding to areas that the National Broadband Map lists as “unserved,” as a way of jump-starting broadband deployment in the United States.

Similarly, states are using the maps to inform and shape state broadband planning efforts. States like Nevada have already comprehensively analyzed their infrastructure from this data and are embarking upon statewide initiatives. For example, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval recently proposed to target $3 million of state expenditures to fund broadband infrastructure projects in unserved areas. In addition, combined with adoption research, these maps will support state and local broadband adoption and utilization projects across the country.

All told, while it marks the culmination of a significant effort, the launch of the National Broadband Map marks, as Winston Churchill once said, “the end of the beginning.” The work of advancing broadband deployment and increasing broadband utilization – that work, that mission, that challenge, remains.

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