Indicators of Broadband Need.
June 17, 2021 7:07 PM   Subscribe

The Biden administration publishes a new map of American broadband access. It's a change from the FCC's map, in that it offers more data, more tools - and doesn't rely on ISP self-reporting.
posted by doctornemo (25 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This is neat! I'll be interested to see how quickly (if?) the map changes as my county's coop rolls out more fiber. They're about a year away from 97% coverage of the whole county with 1 Gbps symmetric fiber to the home.
posted by introp at 7:24 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]

Fascinating. Zooming in on my city was interesting. If you'd just showed me the map and asked me to guess what was being mapped, I probably would have guessed poverty. Clicking to see which of the data sources were used to produce the estimated areas of need showed it was things like lack of broadband subscription and lack of smartphones in the home. That is, it's not like broadband is not possible to get in these parts of the city, it's just that no one there can afford it. The almost block-level resolution even serves as a map of gentrification: there's a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that's still got a deep red patch where the gentrification hasn't yet reached. So it basically is a map of poverty, indirectly. Definitely helps make the point about the digital divide and differential access.
posted by biogeo at 8:14 PM on June 17 [13 favorites]

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature is close to passing a law that will effectively ban municipal broadband statewide.
posted by theory at 8:44 PM on June 17 [9 favorites]

I wish I could find out what companies are supposedly offering these broadband packages in my area. I pay $100 a month for 10Mb/sec and can't find anybody that offers better at any price, but this map claims some company is offering 250??? No way.
posted by riotnrrd at 9:51 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]

If you want to contribute to the data gathered by this chart, the FCC has a free speed test app available for both iOS and Android that you can download that will check and report your data transfer rate.
posted by JHarris at 10:32 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]

It will be interesting to see how Starlink disrupts the dynamics behind what this map looks like today. It doesn't solve universal broadband by any means, because it's expensive and can only serve a limited density of customers in any area, but it completely bypasses the physical infrastructure involved in rolling out fibre, cable, or DSL. It upends the competitive landscape for a lot of shitty local monopolies in underserved markets.
posted by allegedly at 10:51 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]

Sure, if you live in a place that doesn't have moderately warm summers or trees.
posted by miguelcervantes at 11:13 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]

(Ah, I just noticed that this map is not from the FCC! Although the fact that the FCC is pushing its own reporting app now and not just relying on ISP self-reporting should be taken as a sign that they're getting serious about this problem!)
posted by JHarris at 11:16 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

will be interesting to see how Starlink disrupts the dynamics behind what this map looks like today. It

Enh, I would think that local wiireless broadband ISPs would be more reliable and more viable. And those companies actually exist already.
posted by eustatic at 11:29 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]

WISPs can do in a pinch, especially if they can afford spectrum licenses and the gear to go with them, but it's really no replacement for wires or better yet fiber. Starlink is similar, but doesn't need equipment on a tower every few miles to eke out decent speed, so has some significant advantages in very sparsely populated areas.
posted by wierdo at 6:19 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Perennial reminder that "America" != USA. Even the domain name of the linked site acknowledges this.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:24 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Oh this is so great! It's remarkable having a government that cares about helping people get services again. There are many corrupt people who served in the Trump administration but Ajit Pai sort of flew below the radar at the FCC. But he started his reign by allowing astroturfing to help sink net neutrality (some say coordinating it). And the FCC for the whole time under him never once produced a believable report of actual Internet speeds.

This map is so simple! It's just collecting data from some very obvious data sources; three companies that have performance data from users, a couple of measures from the US census, a little bit of FCC data that the ISPs can't corrupt. The presentation is a bit confusing because it turns it all on at once, all in red. Turn the individual "Indicators of Need" checkboxes off and onto understand it better.

I live one mile out of town in California, in the Sierra foothills. I cannot get wired Internet service. Cellular is awful and old-school satellite Internet is of course a joke. The local WISP is OK, I've been using them for years, but the fastest they offer is 15/3Mbps for $150/month. I just got into the Starlink beta and I think it will be a game-changer for rural users, at least until they run out of satellite bandwidth. Despite the snark it works very well, my only complaint is that in the beta period there's still occasional 10 second outages that are expected but super annoying. But Starlink has a serious limitation, the bandwidth available at any one satellite. They're going to be limited to 485,000 to 5M users depending on who you believe. It's not a true national solution.

For years now the FCC has been helping the existing ISPs skate by, taking in major government grant money and not meaningfully improving service for rural Americans. It's weird this new map isn't an FCC publication but I guess the FCC isn't unfucked enough yet to rely on them to do something like this. I'm glad to see the Biden administration putting the pressure on via other means.

BTW this map is from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency under the Department of Congress. Their budget is less than one tenth of the FCC's.
posted by Nelson at 7:13 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]

It really craps all over the trope that people are going to move to lower cost rural areas and work on their computer remotely. They can move to an exurb of a major metro. Any farther than that, they using smoke signals.

And the federal government already subsidizes rural fixed broadband construction! Just think how bad it would be if they didn't! And a lot of that funding, especially under Trump, was being folded into 5G/6G mobile wireless internet for the home instead of wired internet.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:59 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]

Related: the Connect America Fund Broadband Map, which shows areas eligible for CAF II funding for rural broadband and also deployments that qualified for said funding.

The picture of "where carriers have deployed broadband service" is a bit misleading. For instance in my part of California AT&T is shown deploying new 10/1 Mbps service in various places near me. In reality what happened is they repaired an existing 3/0.25 legacy DSL service, not a new installation. You can't order that product anymore, they won't install it. But they'll gladly take government funding to fix an existing customer.

That kind of telco trickery is why this new broadband map in this post is so useful. It's not relying on self-reported data.
posted by Nelson at 9:09 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]

I was genuinely stunned last year when CenturyLink, which has maintained the same 5kbps DSL line to my rural house for a dozen years without showing any indication of ever upgrading, suddenly offered a 40kbps line, for slightly less. Overnight my internet went from perennially shitty to barely adequate! I don't expect CenturyLink to ever upgrade the speed after this, however.
posted by jscalzi at 9:14 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]

Be sure to zoom in a lot if you're looking at a large city. I was surprised to see a lot of reddish areas in Jamaica Plain, a Boston neighborhood that is not generally considered to be bereft of much of anything. When I zoomed in, yes, it did show Egleston Square, which is a poorer part of the neighborhood, was broadband-deficient, but most of the colored-in areas covered the Arnold Arboretum, which only has one house (for the caretaker) and Forest Hills Cemetery, where there's just not much demand for broadband.
posted by adamg at 9:49 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]

and Forest Hills Cemetery, where there's just not much demand for broadband.

You don’t know many ghouls, do you? They like laggy Netflix as much as everybody else.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:17 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]

...suddenly offered a 40kbps line...

You mean Mbps, hopefully. This sounds like the game Nelson was talking about. Check that CAF II map: CenturyLink is probably getting thousands of dollars per address just for changing out some rickety DSLAM. Some of the CAF money went to coops running fiber, but it seems like the vast majority is going to this sort of thing.

I've got flaky 10/1 CenturyLink DSL for $140+ a month. I hope I'll get a Starlink invite soon, even if I have to go to some lengths to get it above the treeline (and maybe cooled). I'm not expecting it to be cheaper or better long-term, but I really hate CenturyLink. It'd be nice to get screwed over by someone else for a while.
posted by netowl at 11:38 AM on June 18

384Kbps DSL is a hell of a lot better than dial up or even geosynchronous satellite service. It's slow for sure, but most mobile versions of sites are light enough to work with that and the latency is decent enough that it doesn't feel horrendous.

I was very surprised when my boss' farm, miles from the nearest paved road and across a creek down another quarter to half mile of its own driveway in some backwoods hollow got DSL service over 10 years ago. As far as I know it's never seen an upgrade. You can't even get cell service at the house. You gotta hike up the hill to the upper field for that.

The electric coop that serves the place is talking about doing a fiber project like their neighbors have in progress. That or maybe Starlink are the only way they're ever getting better service. I'm very much a fan of giving the coops money instead of the telcos. The telco that now owns the lines has a track record of not delivering when given money, unlike the company they bought. Which is probably why they got bought instead of being the one doing the buying.
posted by wierdo at 12:40 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

and Forest Hills Cemetery, where there's just not much demand for broadband.
You don’t know many ghouls, do you? They like laggy Netflix as much as everybody else.

The Nosferatu are going to endanger the Masquerade again if they don’t stop trying to rebuild ShreckNet.
posted by MrBadExample at 3:05 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

It's a shame that WISPs haven't fixed this for more people. I was a customer of T-Mobile's home internet beta program for over a year and it worked really well for me - $60/month for around 60 Mbps down / 20 Mbps up (a fair amount of variance but never so slow it was unusable). It even got better when we moved to a new state and our new house had better reception.

That said, it had some kind of issue (latency?) that did not play well with an app I use extensively for work. So when a local cable ISP offered a better deal we took it. And this was in relatively dense suburbs where we actually had other internet options. But my point is huge swaths of the USA are covered by at least passable 4G or 5G service, and it's too bad that we can't (or haven't) used that to provide passable Internet access to more people. I realize spectrum and throughput aren't unlimited but are the airwaves and the fiber running to each tower really that saturated?
posted by Tehhund at 8:54 AM on June 19

The American Prospect: The Infrastructure Success Story in ChattanoogaSome of the fastest broadband speeds in the world come from this Tennessee city’s public network. It could be replicated across the country.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:09 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Perennial reminder that "America" != USA.

While this is true, otoh I don't think anyone is confused, most of the rest of the world seems to adhere to this shorthand, it's the only nation in the Americas with "America" right in the name, and this article is about the broadband policy of the nation in question . . .

I guess I'm not sure what this intervention is supposed to accomplish in this context. Maybe a metatalk?
posted by aspersioncast at 11:31 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

At my store in downtown Los Angeles, I can’t get better service than 12/1 Mbps DSL without spending $400+ per month for fiber service, but even when I tried to sign up for that it turned out they wouldn’t do the install because they said it would cost $100k or more for them to do it. Spectrum didn’t bother running service to all of the smaller commercial buildings on our block when they did for the large residential building on one end of it. They send me a postcard or other mailer almost every week asking me to sign up, though.

We are about six blocks from One Wilshire, where about a third of the Internet traffic between the US and Asia transits.
posted by jimw at 8:44 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]

Anecdote, but... My friend's small horse pasture in SC outside Greenville (that the site reports as a separate Census Block) says that three people live there and one can get 940Mbps service; neither of which is true - nobody and nothing but satellite. Her house, in an adjacent "Census Block", has a more accurate population but reports the same available speeds but in reality nothing "wired" is available nor any WISPs. Satellite only. Yet a nearby Wilderness Area in the mountains shows a higher availability rate. Then I started clicking around near my home in Asheville and saw that where I have Spectrum via a cable is shown with worse speeds than that remote horse pasture. And the populations of the blocks is just so far off (low) that it's comical. If the granular data is this bad ...

Another friend was railing about Starlink satellites "ruining her night-time sky". She is not an astrophotographer or even an amateur astronomer. I asked if she had ever seen the Space Station or an Iridium flare she didn't know what I was talking about. She didn't care and said that "everybody that wants fast internet can get it now without a satellite". People that have can be blind to people that don't.
posted by achrise at 10:39 AM on June 22

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