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U.S. publishes 1st National Broadband Map

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 7:45am
Brian Santo

Adequate broadband coverage in the U.S. is still not available in 5 to 10 percent of the country, broadband speeds in general do not measure up to expectation, and adoption rates are improving, but adoption statistics also reveal that digital divides remain, according to the first National Broadband Map.

The U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) was instructed to create the map as a provision of the economic stimulus bill passed in 2009.

The map shows that well over 90 percent of the U.S. has some form of broadband coverage, wired or wireless, but 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, according to the NTIA. The FCC last July set a benchmark of 4 Mbps actual speed downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to support these applications.

Broadband Internet access at home continues to grow: 68 percent of households have broadband access, as compared with 63.5 percent last year. The digital divide between urban and rural areas has lessened since 2007, but it remains significant, the NTIA reported. 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.

Other findings from the study 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 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 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 kbps, which corresponds roughly to "3G" wireless service.

Broadband data collected over the years was often criticized as inadequate, outdated, misleading, and even useless. Hence the directive to create a broadband map with more relevant data upon which more rational policy decisions could be made.

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."

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