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Colorado Moves to Fix National Broadband Map Shortcomings

Accuracy of National Broadband Map Data Being Questioned

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A Colorado Senate Bill addressing shortcomings in the national broadband map is making its way through the legislative process. The bill would require the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Office of Information Technology (OIT) to identify communities without adequate broadband networks. If the bill makes its way into law, the mapping would have to be done by January 1, 2013.

Colorado Senate Bill 12-129, named the Rural Broadband Jobs Act and sponsored by State Senator Gail Schwartz, would also require the development of a strategy to increase broadband access to unserved areas of the state. The work done to uncover the unserved communities would build upon existing broadband data and mapping information which has already been compiled.

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The NTIA released its national broadband map in February of 2011 after distributing more than $7 billion in broadband grants. The National Broadband Map was intended to identify areas of the country still lacking sufficient Internet access. The NTIA website contains a treasure trove of data for consumers, analysts, providers, and policymakers to examine. Not surprisingly the data demonstrated that many rural areas in the country lack broadband access. The map also contains information regarding broadband speeds, a breakdown of broadband stimulus projects by state, and numerous additional demographics. The map was an important component of President Obama's overall broadband stimulus program under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA).

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The information contained in the maps is particularly important for states, as they contemplate grant proposals and potential federal funding from President Obama's National Wireless Initiative, and other broadband grant programs from other federal programs, state, and local governments.

The national map is completely interactive with any number of statistics ready to be displayed. The production and release of the map was unprecedented, and intended to be used as a tool to identify areas of the country where access to broadband is a problem. Each state received federal funding to supply the NTIA with mapping data for their state.

Broadband Grant Program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

A few of the major conclusions reach by analyzing the broadband mapping data include:

  • Approximately 7 million people do not have access to broadband in the United States
  • 30% of the nation have broadband availability rates of 95% or more
  • 12% of the nation have broadband availability rates of 50% or less

The importance of broadband is even more important in areas where building out broadband infrastructure is often difficult and expensive. Gail Schwartz,the sponsor of the Colorado bill summed it up like this: "As we continue working to strengthen the Colorado economy it is imperative we ensure our rural economies are not left behind. Having broadband connectivity is a necessity for rural communities to access vital services, remain engaged and allow businesses to be competitive.”

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The Rural Broadband Jobs Act being introduced in Colorado seeks to correct the inaccuracies contained in the national broadband map. According to govtech.com, Colorado Counties Inc. and the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance both support the goals of the bill. In an interview granted by the state and local government website, Andy Karsian, from Colorado Counties Inc. said, "We’re supportive of the bill because even though we recognize it’s just a mapping exercise for the state, it is one more way for us to emphasize the importance of connecting all these rural areas around the state to broadband."

The bill also contains provisions which will also guide the state as the mapping data is validated. If the bill passes, a broadband task force comprised of local governments and broadband providers will use the data to develop a strategy to bring broadband service to unserved areas.

This prompted a representative of the provider community to offer lukewarm support about that provision. In the same GovTech.com article, written by Brian Heaton,Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic and community development consulting group, said the following:

“Unfortunately these advisory panels often end up stacked with representatives from DSL and cable companies that prefer the status quo until they can devise a scheme for the public to funnel more subsidies their way,” Mitchell said. “I hope that will not be the case in Colorado.”

The bill has been amended to include a provision requiring the Office of Information Technology to map existing broadband assets owned by he State. This will permit broadband planners from leveraging state owned assets as they develop a strategy to deploy new networks.

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