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Mapping in the Stimulus Plan

The New York Times recently wrote an article regarding the value of a nationwide broadband inventory as described in the federal stimulus plan. The article provides various points of view and justifications for the $350 million price tag currently allocated for a “nationwide inventory map of existing broadband service capability and availability in the United States.” Connected Nation and its many state-based affiliates have long been developing and updating similar broadband efforts and these maps are valuable vehicles for change among the state broadband landscape.

However, as Connected Nation’s experience has demonstrated and as Congress and the Obama administration have so aptly laid out in the new “broadband stimulus,” the broadband service inventory is only one component of the required efforts to ensure that everyone has access to broadband and is able to realize the value of getting connected. As laid out in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (and as funded by the $350 million for state grant programs) the broadband inventory must be complimented by:

Efforts to increase awareness of broadband availability, adoption and applications;
Statewide public-private partnership that is dedicated to full broadband deployment;
Community-level demand creation program that brings together local citizens to educate them and energize the opportunity of broadband; and
Computer distribution programs to put computers in the hands of low-income households.

Simply put, these broadband inventories outline where broadband is and where it is not. Understanding the landscape of the broadband environment as well as available connectivity options develops educated consumers and entices providers to build out. Coupled with serious and comprehensive demand side activities, these inventory maps become a critical tool in addressing the challenges to digital inclusion.

As prescribed in the stimulus and as included in Public Law 100-385 (the Broadband Data Improvement Act) Connected Nation works closely with the private sector throughout all efforts to successfully improve digital inclusion in our states and local communities. During map development, we work closely with telecom providers of all types and sizes to exchange detailed versions of their coverage data. Provider information is sometimes unavailable at the start of a process, it is rarely in any standard format and it always requires special considerations on the part of the aggregator so that a certain level of confidentiality is upheld for the most sensitive data.

This engagement with the private sector at all points in the process allows for more informed decision-making for companies and more effective policy making among the public sector. It is the essence of effective public-private partnership. We commend Congress and President Obama for taking the bold step to enable this type of partnership in each and every state. America will be better for it.