Mapping Broadband, Mashing Data:
Broadband and a little Gov 2.0
Feb 24 2011

by tmartin on February 24, 2011

HERE’S A URL I want to share:

(To navigate it well, use the menu options in the footer. By default the footer is turned off, so you’ll probably want to click on the “show footer” link at the lower right corner of page. The footer links are really pop-up menus to different ways of seeing the data.)

What you see before you, at, represents your tax dollars at work. This is our map – and it deserves a look for two reasons.

First is for the obvious content. Broadband.

Broadband describes a certain minimum level of data connection speed. In common use, it has come to mean, “how fast you can download and upload information from the Internet?”

The answer according to the map: It all depends.

It depends on where you live. And if you don’t live in a densely populated area, your connection potential plummets. Now, those of us who live where there are 0 or 1 options for broadband already know this. We know we’ll pay more and get less.

Connectivity matters because data infrastructure drives 21st century interactions. It defines our ability to compete economically, to run our communities effectively, and to be part of the larger democratic and civic process. From education through daily work, we’re bound together by a ring of fiber.

Well, mostly. Except for the places out of the loop.

“So what?” you ask? I get all the cable TV I want. Who cares about this broadband thing?

Well, you should. If you doubt its value, look to the ghost towns of old west, by-passed by the connective metal of the rail, or the depopulated zones that thrived 100 years ago but by-passed by the concrete pulse of the highway system. Without competitive connectivity, that’s your future. That’s our future.

As the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) writes “We created the map at the direction of Congress, which recognized that economic opportunities are driven by access to 21st Century infrastructure.”

The NTIA is the arm of the US Department of Commerce that manages the $7B ARRA fund for broadband, the fund which provided the Cape Cod region with $32M to build middle mile infrastructure through the OpenCape project.

For this national map, the NTIA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and various state-level entities received grant money to collect and compile data. They ran two rounds of data collection, pulling in information from 3,400 local broadband services representing 1,650 unique companies. Every six months the map gets refreshed with current data.

Which brings me to the second reason you should check out this map: Data Use.

There’s a lot of data here. Yes, yes, I know that people began arguing about its accuracy even before the report was released on February 18 – but that’s a question for another time and place. Set that aside for a second and look again at the map.

It defines a new generation of data interaction. A few short years ago, these dollars would have created some thick paper report, read by a small subset of fanatical followers. The bulk of that static prose tends to discourage anyone else.

But that’s NOT what you’ll find here. While there is an affiliated report, the interactive maps represent a visual and living way to see data, ask questions about data, and apply your own lens to it.

In addition, you can download the dataset yourself and run your own analysis with your tools.

That’s an example of open data.

But wait, there’s more!

This data combines NTIA, FCC, and state sources, along with the first 2010 data sets released by the Census Bureau. Thus, you can compare broadband speeds with population density, education, age, income …

That’s an example of data mashing.

NTIA says it plans to update the data every six months, creating a living document and putting the tax investment to work over a longer period of time, adding value and creating a tool far more useful than a stack of pages.

That’s an example of living data.

This interactive document integrates a feedback loop ( letting individuals enter information they know about a specific address or running a speed test and sharing the results with the dataset.

That’s an example of crowd sourcing.

Whether you like the results of the research or not, whether you agree with the collection methodology or not, whether you like the interface design or want to critique it to bits — it doesn’t matter. This is without question a significant shift in the way we all access information.

Ironically, the report itself shows why its own topic – broadband – is so important.

The report and map deploy tools and techniques which define next generation use of data – tools and techniques that turn data into information and greatly increase its value and the return we all get on our investment.

But to get that value, you’ve got to be connected. At broadband speeds.

Now there’s a message – intended or not – that couldn’t be stated more clearly.


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