Mobile Accountability V: Pondering The Goals Of US Broadband Mapping

The National Telecommunications & Information Association (NTIA) cites the goal of the US Broadband Mapping Project as:

“to increase broadband Internet access and adoption in America, which supports economic growth, job creation, and improved education, health care, and public safety…creating and maintaining the first public, searchable nationwide map of broadband availability; broadband-usage research that can inform efforts to close the digital divide; and promoting digital literacy to help Americans compete in the 21st century economy.”

Mobile Accountability V: Pondering The Goals Of US Broadband Mapping image NBMMobile Accountability V: Pondering The Goals Of US Broadband MappingAs a mobile analytics service, we like this. This is a good thing. We certainly like that the NTIA is including mobile broadband networks in their mapping project.

This is especially important as we look to an environment where more megabytes are to be transferred on smart devices over mobile networks than on large form devices over more traditional wire line internet.

With the project well under way, many states have searchable and filterable online broadband maps, we pause to note how effectively the objectives of the original goal are being met. Though not explicitly stated, it is clear that, in large part, the National Broadband Map is focused on how best to provide and educate the public about broadband service options. If the mobile adoption trends continue, mobile broadband over Smartphones and tablets will be the platform of choice.

With that in mind we question why individuals can find mobile network performance information about a specific address, but not about an area, or in a map-layer view. After all the point of mobile is well, moving! There to be a holdover from fixed wire line measurement. Consider the commonplace home Wi-Fi network that connects through a DSL or a cable modem.

Knowing the download speed the cable or phone company can offer you at the threshold of your house is important because that will be an indicator of how fast you can expect the various Wi-Fi devices on your network to transfer data. Since all the devices are connecting to the internet through this single point of service, knowing the throughput speed at this point made sense.

This single access point, way of thinking very much challenges the basic definition of ‘mobile technology’. People need to know how their mobile devices are going to function at home, at work, on the drive to work, at the in-laws house, etc. using many different access points, not just one. In order to select the best network it is necessary to see performance data over a continuous area not just a fixed point.

Currently the broadband map layers only show aggregated data about network performance and even the number of available providers. So in rural county X you can see that there is only one available network provider and an estimated download speed of 100 Kbps, but you can’t see which provider it is unless you type in a specific address and even then you can’t be sure if down the road a few miles on the way to work it is the same provider. This does not seem to be offering individuals a good way to make a good mobile broadband decision.

A second criticism is the oversimplification of the speed and coverage mapping layers for mobile broadband service. Currently, if we were to look at a map overlay of a city like Denver, we would only see an orange color layer indicating data throughput speeds of

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