While Congress debates the merits of a national broadband mapping plan, California has moved ahead and issued its own mapping results, finding that 96 percent of Californians have broadband access, but at speeds, service and pricing levels that vary widely from region to region.
According to the California Broadband Task Force organized by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, only a little more than half of the state's residents have access to broadband at speeds greater than 10MB per second.
The report issued Jan. 17 found that broadband infrastructure is deployed unevenly throughout the state resulting in 1.4 million mostly rural Californians lacking broadband access at any speed. Of those with broadband access only about half have adopted high-speed Internet at home.
In California's large population areas, 95 percent Los Angeles and Orange County residents can subscribe to speeds of 10MB per second or higher, while only 6 percent of Bay Area households-home to the Silicon Valley-are able to do so.
"We confirmed some things we already knew," Cisco Systems' Jeffrey Campbell, who worked on the mapping plan and report, told eWEEK. "We knew the problem was largely rural but no one had actually compiled the data. That's a prerequisite for action."
Campbell, Cisco's senior director of Technology and Communications Policy, added, "If you want to make a difference, you have to have that piece of the puzzle."
The CBTF recommended new incentives for deploying and existing programs to expand broadband access to rural Californians. Other recommendations of the task force include creating a statewide e-health network, increasing broadband implementation in educational settings and creating strong incentives for broadband innovation and research.
Click here to read more about federal efforts to promote broadband access in rural areas.
"The governor was very concerned about the state of broadband in California," Campbell said. "One of the next steps is the government and the legislature need to get together and start acting on our recommendations."
Part of Schwarzenegger's broadband concern is the United States' continuing decline in global broadband penetration rates. In 2001, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found the United States was second in the world for broadband penetration. The United States now ranks 15th in the world.
If California were its own nation, CBTF report notes, the state would have placed third in the world in broadband penetration in 2001. By 2007, California ranked 10th among OECD nations.
"California has consistently had higher levels of broadband availability and usage than many other states, but we have already begun to fall behind other regions and countries," the report states.
On the national level, Congress is also considering mapping the nation's broadband accessibility. In November, The U.S. House approved the Broadband Census of America Act, designed to change the way the Federal Communications Commission measures broadband penetration nationwide.
The bill would discontinue the Federal Communications Commission's current ZIP code method that counts a single broadband subscriber in a five-digit ZIP code as representing high-speed access for the entire ZIP code. Democrats have criticized the method as presenting an overly optimistic national picture of broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, the data obtained from the new mapping method will be used to create a national, searchable map of broadband availability. The bill also provides $300 million for grants to help deploy broadband in underserved areas of the country.
"This broadband mapping bill reflects the fact that current data collection methods used by the FCC are inadequate and highly flawed," bill sponsor Rep. Ed Markey, D.-Mass., said in November. "We must have more reliable information about broadband deployment and consumer adoption as a first step in developing any comprehensive blueprint for America's broadband future."