The National Broadband Map, released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on Feb. 17, reveals that while the majority of schools are connected to the internet, those connection speeds are not meeting the needs of students and teachers.
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 service providers or other data sources.
“The National Broadband Map shows there are still too many people and community institutions lacking the level of broadband service needed to fully 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,” said Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling. “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.”
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The website resulting from this federal-state partnership includes more than 25 million searchable records showing where broadband service is available, the technology used to provide the service, the maximum advertised speeds of the broadband service, and the names of the service providers. Users can 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 service across various geographies, such as states, counties, or congressional districts.
The map shows that between 5 and 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 last July set a benchmark of 4 Mbps actual speed downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to support these applications.
NTIA 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.
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 to 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 four percent of libraries reported subscribing to speeds greater than 25 Mbps.
“Ensuring high-speed broadband access for all students is a critical national issue and foundational to realizing our education reform and improvement goals,” said Douglas Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). SETDA research contributed to NTIA data about school connectivity.
High-speed access is especially important in areas where learning opportunities are limited, such as rural areas where students may not have access to higher-level courses.
“Students everywhere need access to rich educational tools and resources, teachers need access for professional development and to engage in professional learning communities, [and] administrators need high-speed broadband access to conduct online assessments and to access data for effective decision-making,” Levin said. “Simply put, without continued and direct investment in broadband and educational technologies, education reformers are asking schools to improve, innovate, and compete with one hand tied behind their back.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said: “The release of the National Broadband Map, the first of its kind in the nation, is a significant milestone. This cutting-edge tool will continue to evolve with the help of new data and user feedback. 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.”
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 kbps, which corresponds roughly to “3G” wireless service.
The map will serve a variety of uses. For example, federal, state, and local policy makers 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 will also help consumers and small businesses learn about the broadband service options in their neighborhood or where they may relocate.
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.
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.
A digital nation
The NTIA also released a 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 2010. 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 over time.
Highlights of the February 2011 Digital Nation report include:
- Broadband internet access at home continues to grow: 68 percent of households have broadband access, as compared to 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, non-family households, and the non-employed 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 percent 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) or too expensive (25 percent). In rural America, however, lack of broadband availability is a larger reason for non-adoption than in urban areas (9.4 percent 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 persons do not use the internet in any location, down from 31.6 percent last year.