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TechNet Hosts First Broadband Map Research Meeting

in Broadband Data/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2011 - The bipartisan technology policy group TechNet gathered government officials and leading broadband scholars Tuesday to present the first set of academic research using data from the national broadband map.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration Chief of Staff Thomas Powers kicked off the event by praising the researchers for their quick analysis of the large data set.

The national broadband map comprises 25 million pieces of data, and represents the most detailed set of broadband data compiled to date.

The research was only possible due to the granularity of data that the broadband map collected. The research is still in preliminary stages, but the findings support many claims that policy makers have been asserting about the link between broadband availability, demographics and economics.

Ying Li and Mikyung Baek from the Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies looked at the correlation between broadband availability, income and race in Los Angeles, Chicago and South Carolina. They found that the heavily African American areas of Los Angeles had a low level of broadband availability. In South Carolina, they found that in areas where the overall population has a low income race did not affect availability.

Sharon Strover, Director, Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the University of Texas examined the quality of broadband in rural regions. She compared speed availability in various rural areas and found that the economic characteristics of the region directly affect the broadband availability. In areas where mining and farming is dominant speeds tend to be low.

Strover also found a greater disparity in the difference between advertised speed and actual speed in rural areas than in urban.

“Right now we are drawing conclusions from Census data collected in 2000,” said Johannes Bauer Director of Special Programs, Quello Center for Telecommunication Management & Law at Michigan State University. “To really understand what’s going on we need access to the most recent Census data.”

Bauer went on to suggest that when the NTIA updates the map it include information about adoption and pricing.

“We now know what’s available but not what people are using.” Bauer said.

George Ford, Chief Economist at the Phoenix Center, provided a critique of the map saying that it was “incomplete” and that it did not provide accurate enough data to be used to conduct verifiable analysis.  Ford commended the NTIA map as a first attempt, but that researchers should wait for improvements before drawing any conclusions.

Communications Workers of America Telecommunications Policy Director Debbie Goldman said that while many providers did not initially supply data to the map, they now see how the public is using the map and are more willing to provide data.

Steven Morris, Vice president at National Cable & Telecommunications Association, echoed the statement, saying, “we have always encouraged our members to provide data for the mapping effort and are trying to convince the few hold outs to supply data.”

National Broadband Mapping Program Director, Anne Neville responded to the critics saying, “This is the largest and most detailed map ever made and there are going to be some errors, but this is Version One - with each update the map will improve.”

Neville also stressed the point that the data is coming directly from the Internet service providers and many of them do not have the data in the level of detail the map requires. When the data is converted, it can lead to errors, but states have been given funding to update and improve the data over the next five years.

The NTIA plans to update the map in late August.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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