Two Years and Five Updates for the National Broadband Map

Thu, January 31, 2013 by Anne Neville, Director, State Broadband Initiative

Nearly two years ago, NTIA launched the National Broadband Map, and today we are updating it, as we have every six months since its inception.  The map provides the first-ever detailed datasets of broadband availability across the country, and it would not be possible without a unique partnership between the federal government, states, and the voluntary participation of many broadband providers. 

With funding from NTIA, made available by the Recovery Act, each state undertook a massive effort to locate broadband availability by census block, essentially dividing the country into more than 11 million distinct areas.  A census block is the smallest unit of geography for which population or other data are available, and on average has a population of about 28 people.  With these data, we can now see change at a granular and national level every six months.

The results of the latest data collection, current as of June 30, 2012, are now online.  The Map offers many ways to use the data.  Try comparing different regions of the country or viewing data for a single provider.  Many national statistics are also available in the reportsHere you will see that 98 percent of Americans now have access to wired or wireless broadband at advertised download speeds of at least 3 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 768 kbps.  However, only 93 percent of Americans have access to these basic broadband speeds through wired services.  Today, 81 percent of the country has access to wireless speeds of at least 6 Mbps, leaving us only 17 percentage points away from reaching the President’s goal of ensuring that 98 percent of Americans have access to 4G services. 

Creating this dataset is no small feat.  States use information from broadband providers, public data, and third-party datasets to develop a baseline statewide broadband availability dataset. This is challenging work.  Data exist in many different formats and each grantee must standardize the information without harming its integrity.  In some cases, the data does not currently exist, requiring field and engineering work to gather the data.

Next – and often most time consuming – grantees must review the data, comparing information sources, including on-the-ground knowledge discovered through public meetings, inquiries by phone and email, and third-party datasets and field verification, such as drive testing.  This process allows grantees to verify the baseline dataset, and it sometimes also demonstrates that data are incorrect and need to be changed before sending them to NTIA. 

Every six months, the states send more than 20 million combined records to NTIA.  Because geography and population are different in every state, every grantee has a unique plan, primarily drawn from a set of common elements, for verifying data.  Because this type of large-scale data collection had never been undertaken before, we all continue to identify and refine the most cost-effective and efficient methods for collecting and maintaining this information.  If you would like to learn more about the methods each grantee uses, please see the Data Download page on the National Broadband Map.  You can also contact the grantee in your state to find out other ways to engage.

Thanks to everyone involved in making this map a success.  As always, please tell us how you are using the map and the data, ask us questions, or provide suggestions for improvement.

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