Report Cites Merits of Broadband Mapping

Even slight growth in broadband adoption could impact the U.S. economy to the tune of $134 billion annually.

Even a modest bump in broadband adoption could result in a $134 billion annual impact on the U.S. economy, according to a new report by the nonprofit Connected Nation.

The report is based on the impact of its first state-based program, ConnectKentucky, which resulted in an extensive broadband mapping program for the state.

Since the ConnectKentucky program was launched three years ago, Kentucky has experienced an 83 percent rate of growth in broadband adoption. The national rate over the same period was 57 percent.

From the Kentucky data, Connected Nation extrapolated the economic impact of modest growth in broadband adoption for each state and the country as a whole. The group is actively campaigning on Capitol Hill for national legislation that follows the mapping plan of Kentucky.

"Just as the Congress needed to pass the recent economic stimulus package to accelerate the economies of every state, so too does the nation deserve passage of pending legislation that could accelerate access to and use of broadband," Connected Nation CEO Brian Mefford said in a statement.

The U.S. House approved Nov. 13 the Broadband Census of America Act, designed to change the way the Federal Communications Commission measures broadband penetration nationwide. Similar legislation is contained in the Farm bill before the Senate.

The legislation (H.R. 3919) will discontinue the FCC'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.

The data obtained from the new mapping method will be used to create a national, searchable map of broadband availability, much like the ConnectKentucky plan. The bill also provides $300 million for grants to help deploy broadband in underserved areas of the country.

"The beauty of the broadband legislation currently in play in the midst of Farm bill negotiations is that it would provide a jolt to the nation's economy in the near term-to the tune that rivals the recent economic stimulus package," Medford said.

In January, California 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. The report 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.

"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."