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Interactive Map Visualises to Aid with Digital Divide in U.S.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a new publicly available digital map that displays key indicators of broadband needs across the country. This is the first interactive, public map that allows users to explore different datasets about where people do not have quality Internet access.

The public “Indicators of Broadband Need,” comes from both public and private sources. The interactive digital map helps illustrate which parts of the U.S. report internet speeds that fall below the Federal Communications Commission’s current benchmark for fixed broadband service: 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream.

The map contains data aggregated at the county, census tract and census block level from the Census Bureau, the Federal Communications Commission FCC’s Form 477, on which internet service providers report fixed broadband speeds that meet the FCC’s benchmark, and speed test data. This is the first map that allows users to graphically compare and contrast these different data sources.

Using the Census’ American Community Survey from 2015-2019, the map also puts poverty and lack of broadband access on the same page. The dataset allows users to see where high-poverty communities are located and how that relates to internet usage patterns, as well as to a lack of computers and related equipment.

The map also shows usage patterns in tribal communities, which have historically suffered from a lack of internet access. Users can toggle the separate data sets on and off to compare information and search for specific locations, including Tribal lands and minority-serving institutions, to gain a better understanding of where broadband needs are greatest.

Users can see internet usage patterns in high-poverty areas and tribal communities, as well as their lack of computers and related equipment.  Toggling the layers on and off allows users to compare information for specific locations so they can gain a better understanding of where broadband needs are greatest.

The NTIA map is the latest effort to better identify gaps in high-speed internet services. The FCC tasked its Broadband Data Task Force to develop the necessary tools to gather more accurate and granular broadband access data from ISPs, the public, state, local and tribal governments, other federal agencies as well as third parties, such as companies specialising in broadband mapping and data collection. The agency also said it planned to refine the data over time through crowdsourcing, audits and verification and enforcement actions.

To ensure that every household has the internet access necessary for success in the digital age, NTIA needs better ways to accurately measure where high-speed service has reached Americans and where it has not. The latest mapping effort by NTIA is a welcome new tool that provides valuable insight into the state of broadband across the country.

Any effort to close the digital divide starts with solid data, and NTIA continues to help policymakers make more informed decisions on expanding broadband access. Now, the public can benefit from their platform to see which areas of the country still do not have broadband at the speeds needed to participate in the modern economy.

NTIA also offers to state governments and federal partners a geographic information system (GIS) platform called the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM). The platform provides more complex tools for analysing broadband access, such as the ability to upload GIS files to compare proposed projects. The mapping platform allows the majority of states in the U.S. to better inform broadband projects and funding decisions.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, high-speed internet access has become a necessity for working and learning from home especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many American households lack a decent broadband connection. To tackle this problem, U.S. researchers have developed a new tool to smooth the collection of federal broadband access data that helps pinpoint coverage gaps across the U.S. The research reveals that nearly 21% of students in urban areas are without at-home broadband, while 25% and 37% lack at-home broadband in suburban and rural areas.

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