Map Does Nothing to Promote U.S. Broadband Expansion

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-02-18 Print this article Print


Consumer groups have claimed that the map would prove that the broadband providers are gaming the system. I'm not sure what they have in mind. But you'd think they'd find a way to deliver the map in its entirety if someone wanted to prove there was broadband gaming going on. So now we're presented with a map that doesn't work (I've been trying for a while, so it seems that it's actually broken) and information that is, at least, highly suspect. 

So what should the National Broadband Map be showing if it actually worked? Well you'd probably find out that California both exists and has broadband and that the center of the U.S. has at least some broadband. But you'd also find that broadband coverage is focused on population centers. You'd expect to find broadband in Chicago and Houston, for example, but you should also be able to find it in rural farming communities, and it's simply not there. In fact, according to information that the NTIA distributed with the announcement, about 10 percent of the United States is without any broadband access at all. For them, it's analog dial-up or nothing. 

It's this lack of any access to broadband that the FCC is trying to fix and to which the National Broadband Plan is a solution. There are enough studies that show the impact of being without broadband access in a digital world to make it clear that these communities are disadvantaged in ways that simply wanting to be competitive can't fix. 

In a way, it's akin to being without telephones or electricity, but those issues were obvious enough that Congress launched rural electrification in the '30s and universal telephone access after World War II. Unfortunately, access to broadband has become as critical as access to a telephone, and communities that don't have it suffer. 

Solving the problem with broadband requires actual information, a commodity that isn't always appreciated here in Washington. The National Broadband Map, along with its ability to search for addresses and research the existing data, is supposed to do that. But when you can't trust the data and you can't see the map, what good is it? 

The answer is that perhaps someone at the NTIA will notice that their much-ballyhooed map is useless in its current form and then fix it. Perhaps they'll also correct the clearly flawed data. Meanwhile, it's supposed to be updated every six months, so come August, perhaps we'll know for sure whether California has broadband and maybe we'll even find out if Alaska and Hawaii are part of the United States.


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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