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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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February 17, 2009 11:04 AM

How Should We Spend $350 Million On Broadband Mapping/Tracking?

Included in the stimulus bill is $350 million for mapping the availability and tracking the adoption of broadband. That's a huge sum of money with which we can do great things, so how should we spend all those dollars so as to maximize their impact on the state of broadband in the US?

First we should gather as much data as possible.

Next that data should be as granular as possible.

Finally everything should be as transparent as possible.

Now let's dive a bit deeper into the details starting with mapping the availability of broadband.

The most basic level of broadband mapping is where it is and isn't. The next level is what speeds are available where beyond basic broadband. Tied into that is how many providers offer service in any given area. Then how much does that service cost relative to the speeds you're receiving. And finally, what's the quality/reliability of that service.

Next we need more granularity with the data that's collected, in particular getting as close to address-level data as possible. Just because one property in a zip code or census block has broadband that does not mean that all do, especially in rural areas where a town may have multiple providers but the outlying homes have none. If we don't get more granular data we won't be able to accurately identify which areas are unserved.

Another aspect to this issue is the possibility of separating wireline from wireless mapping given that each has different characteristics. For example, wireline should be available at buildings whereas wireless should be available everywhere. Plus the quality/reliability of wireless can vary much more dramatically than wireline due to things like whether the trees have leaves and the state of the weather. Because of this more work will be required to create an accurate map of wireless broadband.

Finally, the more transparent this data is the better the decisions policymakers can make regarding where to direct funding and consumers can make about what service to buy and what communities to relocate to if having high-speed connectivity is important to them.

Now on to the other side of the coin: tracking the demand for broadband.

Again we want as much data as possible. In particular we need a baseline for how people, businesses, and institutions are using broadband today so we can track how their usage is growing tomorrow. Also valuable would be a sense for how much market demand any given community has for broadband as this is data that can be used to justify the buildout of new networks to supply bandwidth to that demand.

And the more granular this data is the more effective it can be. We don't need more projections and guesstimates, we need hard data that reflects actual usage and demand. Plus by being able to target specific kinds of data we can get a more accurate sense for how successful various programs for spurring demand for broadband are.

Finally, the benefits of making this data transparent are huge. Imagine business owners being able to see how their use of broadband-enabled technologies compares to their competitors down the road in terms of cost savings and new growth that are realized. Or envision having accurate data about market demand available to anyone ready, willing, and able to start deploying new next-generation broadband networks. This is the kind of hard, transparent, granular data that can really get our country moving forward in a big way.

While collecting all this data about broadband availability and demand will take time, with the amount of funding set aside for this endeavor money shouldn't be an issue. In fact we should be able to collect all of this data multiple times over the next few years, which brings up another key point, that we can't have this mapping/tracking just be a one off. We need to think about what we're doing today as a baseline that future data can and will be added to.

So as you can see, there's a whole lot we can do with $350 million to track the availability and adoption of broadband. This is a transformative moment in the history of broadband in our country, so let's all work together to figure out how best to spend this money to collect the most data in the most granular and transparent way possible.

If you have any suggestions for additional data points we should be looking to collect or additional uses for the data I've listed above, speak up and add a comment below!

The more brainpower we can get behind issues like this the better the end result can be.

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Comments (2)

It's "up to" $350 million and that may be substantially less than $350 million

Posted by z on February 17, 2009 7:34 PM

A View From the Trenches...

I'm trying to bring broadband to my rural home area of Northern California. (Today I was negotiating for wireless backhaul and physical repeater sites...) Our existing options are satellite (all of the users are anxious to bail out if anything better arrives), cellular (~80K 1x service at 600 mSec), ISDN ($23 per hour to use it in the daytime), or T1 ($650/mo).

You say, "we need hard data that reflects actual usage and demand." How do I measure "demand" when our usage is artificially limited by such primitive connections? Most of the cellular and satellite people are constantly up against their "FAP" limits. The rest of us are up against our financial limits or the physical size of our pipe.

Assuming there is money in the "stimulus plan" that would help our community, how do we bootstrap ourselves into qualifying for it? The first thing people want to see in applications for funding is some indication of "demand". Ask any of us if we want broadband, and of course we'll say yes. The regional colleges have made an art form of doing that survey for years now (search Redwood Coast Connect).

But if we build a system, will people pay us money to connect? Enough for the system to survive? How do we measure that in our artificially constrained market where nobody has the option to sign up for "conventional" DSL or cable connections?

These are serious questions. I'd love an eMail response!


BTW - Your Preview button doesn't work:
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Posted by Loren Amelang on February 19, 2009 1:44 AM

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