New Interactive Map Highlights Digital Divide

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently 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” tool released today puts on one map, for the first time, data from both public and private sources. It contains data aggregated at the county, census tract, and census block level from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), M-Lab, Ookla, and Microsoft.

Speed-test data provided by M-Lab and Ookla help to illustrate the reality that communities experience when going online, with many parts of the country reporting speeds that fall below the FCC’s current benchmark for fixed broadband service of 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload. This is the first map that allows users to graphically compare and contrast these different data sources.

Map displaying Census tracts where median Internet speeds show fixed broadband below 25/3 Mbps, according to Ookla data (courtesy of NTIA).

MACo adopted “Build out Broadband” among its top legislative initiatives for 2021, and supported multiple successful initiatives. Counties continue to develop approaches to this vexing issue, with federal funds through the State likely to complement local and private-sector initiatives.

According to a press release:

“As we release this important data to the public, it paints a sobering view of the challenges facing far too many Americans as they try to connect to high-speed broadband and participate in our modern economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “In his American Jobs Plan, President Biden has proposed a once-in-a-lifetime investment that would finally connect one hundred percent of the country to reliable and affordable high-speed broadband.”

The map also puts poverty and lack of broadband access on the same page. The dataset allows you 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 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.

NTIA also offers to state governments and federal partners a geographic information system (GIS) platform called the National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) that provides more complex tools for analyzing broadband access, such as the ability to upload GIS files to compare proposed projects.

To date, the NBAM is made up of 36 states — including Maryland — and four federal agencies: US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The mapping platform allows these states and others to better inform broadband projects and funding decisions.

For more information about the NBAM, visit NTIA’s BroadbandUSA website or email nbam@ntia.gov.

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