The data will support efforts to expand broadband access and adoption in communities at risk of being left behind in the 21st-century economy and help businesses and consumers seeking information on their high-speed Internet options. NTIA met the Feb. 17 deadline Congress gave the agency by which to create and launch the National Broadband Map.
“A state-of-the-art communications infrastructure is essential to America’s competitiveness in the global digital economy,” said Rebecca Blank, acting commerce deputy secretary. “But as Congress recognized, we need better data on America’s broadband Internet capabilities in order to improve them. The National Broadband Map, along with today’s broadband Internet usage study, will inform efforts to enhance broadband Internet access and adoption, spurring greater innovation, economic opportunities and advancements in health care, education and public safety.”
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said that the map shows that too many people and community institutions remain without the level of broadband service needed to participate in the Internet economy.
“We are pleased to see the increase in broadband adoption last year, particularly in light of the difficult economic environment, but a digital divide remains,” Strickling said. “Through NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, digital literacy activities and other initiatives, including the tools we are releasing today, the Obama administration is working to address these challenges.”
National Broadband Map
The National Broadband Map is an unprecedented searchable database of information on high-speed Internet access. NTIA created the National Broadband Map in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) using data that each state, territory and the District of Columbia (or their designees) collected from broadband providers or other data sources.
The website resulting from this federal-state partnership includes more than 25 million searchable records showing where broadband Internet service is available, the technology used to provide the service, the maximum advertised speeds of the service, and the names of the service providers. Users may search by address to find the broadband providers and services available in the corresponding census block or road segment, view the data on a map, or use other interactive tools to compare broadband across various geographies, such as states, counties or congressional districts.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called the National Broadband Map a milestone.
“This cutting-edge tool will continue to evolve with the help of new data and user feedback,” Genachowski said. “It will provide consumers, companies and policymakers with a wealth of information about broadband availability, speeds, competition and technology and help Americans make better informed choices about their broadband services.”
The map shows that between 5 to 10 percent of Americans lack access to broadband at speeds that support a basic set of applications, including downloading Web pages, photos and video and using simple video conferencing. The FCC in July set a benchmark of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) actual speed downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to support these applications. NTI1A collected data in ranges between 3-6 Mbps and 6-10 Mbps maximum advertised download speeds, which are the closest measurements to the speed benchmark for broadband that the FCC set.
Other key findings based on the data include:
Speeds for community anchor institutions. The data show that community anchor institutions are largely underserved. For example, based on studies by state education technology directors, most schools need a connection of 50-100 Mbps per 1,000 students. The data show that two-thirds of surveyed schools subscribe to speeds lower than 25 Mbps, however. In addition, only 4 percent of libraries reported subscribing to speeds greater than 25 Mbps.
Wireless speeds. Approximately 36 percent of Americans have access to wireless (fixed, mobile, licensed and unlicensed) Internet service at maximum advertised download speeds of 6 Mbps or greater, which some consider the minimum speed associated with 4G wireless broadband service. Ninety-five percent of Americans have access to wireless Internet service speeds of at least 768 kilobits per second (kbps), which corresponds roughly to 3G wireless service.
The map will serve various uses. For example, federal, state and local policymakers can compare broadband availability among geographic areas and across demographic groups, which can inform policies to support private sector investments in deploying broadband. The data can assist broadband providers in assessing new business opportunities and economic developers as they work to attract businesses to–or address barriers to investment in–their communities. The map also will help consumers and small businesses learn about the broadband service options in their neighborhoods or where they might relocate.
The State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program
NTIA created the map through the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, a matching-grant program that implements the joint purposes of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Broadband Data Improvement Act (BDIA). NTIA awarded grants to assist states or their designees in gathering and verifying state-specific data on broadband services. In less than one year, grantees performed two rounds of data collection from 3,400 broadband providers operating in their states, representing more than 1,650 unique broadband companies on the national level. Before sending data to NTIA, grantees used analysis and verification methods ranging from drive-testing wireless broadband service across their highways to meeting with community leaders for input. Many grantees met with broadband providers large and small to confirm data or suggest more accurate depictions of their service areas. Some grantees, unsure of service, performed field investigations. Information on their specific processes may be found on the National Broadband Map website.
The map will be updated every six months based on input from grantees. Using crowdsourcing tools, the public can help improve accuracy by providing feedback on the data. The map is consistent with the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative, undertaking to bring transparency, participation and collaboration to the way the government operates.
NTIA’s grant program also supports state-driven efforts to integrate broadband into their economies. In addition to managing this grant program, NTIA will expand its information-sharing and coordination activities to serve as a broader resource that empowers state and local broadband practitioners as they develop their individualized plans of action.
Broadband Adoption Data
NTIA also released a new report previewing data collected through the Internet Usage Survey of 54,000 households commissioned by NTIA and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in October. The Current Population Survey (CPS) data show that while virtually all demographic groups have experienced rising broadband Internet access adoption at home, historic demographic disparities among groups have persisted.
Highlights of the February 2011 Digital Nation report include:
Broadband Internet access at home continues to grow. Sixty-eight percent of households have broadband access, compared with 63.5 percent last year. (In the survey, broadband was defined as Internet access service that uses DSL, cable modem, fiber optics, mobile broadband and other high-speed Internet access services.)
Notable disparities between demographic groups continue. People with low incomes, disabilities, seniors, minorities, the less educated, nonfamily households, and the unemployed tend to lag behind other groups in home broadband use.
While the digital divide between urban and rural areas has lessened since 2007, it remains significant. In 2010, 70 percent of urban households and only 60 percent of rural households accessed broadband Internet service. (Last year those figures were 66 and 54 percent, respectively.)
Overall, the two most commonly cited main reasons for not having broadband Internet access at home are that it is perceived as not needed (46 percent) and too expensive (25 percent). In rural America, however, lack of broadband availability is a larger reason for nonadoption than in urban areas (9.4 vs. 1 percent). Americans also cite the lack of a computer as a factor.
Despite the growing importance of the Internet in American life, 28.3 percent of all people do not use the Internet in any location, down from 31.6 percent last year.
This report is based on the first data sets released by the Census Bureau. In the coming months, the Census Bureau will provide NTIA with more geographically detailed data. NTIA intends to release that data to the public through www.data.gov as part of the agency’s commitment to open government and transparency.