UPDATED 14:18 EDT / MARCH 24 2009

Broadband Stimulus – Update – The Proper Role for Broadband Mapping When Implementing Fiscal Stimulus

Ken Austin of Broadband Census has a great post on the status of the broadband stimulus.

Through public hearings on broadband stimulus, it is starkly apparent that demand for spending broadband stimulus funds far outstrips the $7.2 billion in available funds. These hearings, by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), have assembled officials and interested parties to examine and address the gap.

The same is true of the realm of broadband data, and in the $350 million allocated to that task by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  Consider the competing needs to:

•    Produce meaningful data that support existing law.

•    Align with key metrics that inform the goals and metrics associated with the emerging National Broadband Strategy

•    Allocate resources to projects that are expedited, transparent, and accountable.

Part 1 of this article looks at two laws that set the scope of broadband mapping initiatives addressed in section 8 of the joint NTIA and RUS call for comment.

The conclusion? The broadband mapping provisions associated with the ARRA are:

(1) Narrowly scoped;

(2) Ideally suited to visually depict unserved areas;

(3) Related directly and exclusively to expanding the scope of S.1492, Section 103(c) as amended;

(4) Potentially misleading and harmful if allowed to drive and dominate the broader need for good-quality broadband data.

Part 2 of this article responds to the questions about the broadband mapping initiative posed in Section 8 (a through j) of the joint NTIA-RUS call for comment.  Part 2 gives voice to the policy and budget implications of the argument made in Part 1.

Part 1: Statutory Bounds for Broadband Mapping – click to get more details

Part 2: Broadband Data More Fundamental than Broadband Mapping  click to get more details


* This article makes a case that broadband mapping as defined in the ARRA:

* Reflects a snapshot of existing conditions.  No provision is made for sustainability of data, or life cycle cost.

* Makes a limited contribution to the range of data collection needs defined in S. 1492.

* Increases the scope of S. 1492 by increasing task complex and cost, without adding additional information.

* Is narrow in its focus on “mapping,” and should remain that way.

In modifying the scope of S.1492 to include “a depictable map,” the ARRA diminishes the relative value of a proper inventory and data set which might be used as raw data for maps that suit a range of needs.

By focusing narrowly on “a map,” policy-makers would fool themselves and those who rely on meaningful data to make supportable investment decisions.

The perception that “broadband mapping,” as defined in the ARRA, will result in a single, scalable, and sustainable “national map” that simultaneously supports infrastructure management and civil debate impairs focus and poses unending sustainment cost, especially if the source data are proprietary.

The second greatest risk is that the focus becomes merely “a map” and is therefore devoid of meaningful substance.

It is crucial to consider that data underlying state-by-state and national broadband maps, are useful for thousands of applications, some not imaginable today, and others having nothing to do with geography. Any public hearing, and presumably any considered response, would recognize that the inherent value lies in the data, not “the map”.

Resources should be apportioned accordingly.  A depictable map should not siphon resources from the goals and metrics that are established for National Broadband Strategy and other data-collection efforts that inform the National Broadband Data Improvement Act.

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