Thursday, November 1, 2007

U.S. Broadband Map

H.R. 3919 , Broadband Census Act of America of 2007, sets out to map out the service areas of broadband Internet access across the U.S. In the current language of the bill, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce would collect data down to the 9-digit zip code or census tract level. The bill would also survey consumers as to several aspects of broadband service in their area.

The fact that this bill is now being introduced is a positive step. Positive in that such a broadband inventory can encourage competition by ISPs. The identification of underserved potential customers or wholly ignored areas open to new development could provide a catalyst for increasing broadband Internet access. When broadband Internet access saturation occurs, a broadband map will prove useful to identify further markets open to competition based on prices and speeds available to consumers and businesses.

The bill can also provide information for new residents about services. I know that before I move, typical transitory college student, one of the first questions I ask a landlord is whether broadband Internet access is available. Many times they do not know, and I am left with the duty of going to all the various big name ISPs to see if they offer service in which area. With such a map, a person could cut down the time spent researching for an answer to this question and at the same time see pricing and speed options. (At least the current information for when the map and survey were last conducted, which is to be annually).

Another use for this map is to provide data concerning broadband accessibility, geography, and demography. The data could be used in many imaginative ways. One could be the correlation between broadband accessibility and population income or whether remoteness and low population density are underlying characteristics of communities that do not have access to broadband Internet connectivity.

I would urge that the bill define broadband in terms to the current accepted use of the word. Instead of using the Federal Communication Commission’s 200Kbps speed, I would suggest that a minimum speed in the Mbps, perhaps 5Mbps, be used as a defining characteristic with a separate notation for non-broadband access, say through dial-up access in which speeds are slower than 5Mbps. Of course the 5Mbps was picked at random, but with 10Mbps speeds available in my area, I think 5Mbps would be a nice speed as a minimum.

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